Editorial: Let’s not forget, the river must come first

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Click above to watch a clip from KCET’s ‘A Concrete River: Reviving The Waters of Los Angeles.’ (Courtesy KCET)

In our all-too-human rush to progress, unexplored, poorly researched goals can lead to more problems than the fix solves.

How about the car? Sure, it got rid of those messy horses and fly-infested dung piles messing up the roads, but, in turn, we got smog, gridlock and a woeful public transit system from our embrace of the “horseless carriage.”

Or old-school refrigeration? Sure, your ice doesn’t come in blocks anymore, and your meat isn’t spoiled, but CFC refrigerants had to be reinvented to combat a growing hole in the ozone. And that reinvention, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), turned out to be worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

The Los Angeles River no longer has winter flooding, thanks to the work of the Army Corps of Engineers, but we no longer have an actual river running through Los Angeles, nor the ecosystem it supported. And now is the time to ask what kind of solution we will get to the one that fixed the original problem,

In recent years, the river has become a money magnet enabling politicians from Los Angeles, to Sacramento, to Washington. This comment after a July press conference post about the river receiving $100 million in bond funds hit home for readers of this blog.

Mark Gangi says:
July 7, 2017 at 5:08 pm Edit
Just hope they don’t screw up the fishing by confusing what a park is with what a river is.
At first, Mark’s comment seemed so straightforward to me that I missed his point. But it became clear as I listened to this interview with Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation with A. Martinez on KPCC public radio.

Brick wants to restore the ecosystem, so that steelhead can return from the ocean to their mountain home. Is a plan that far-reaching anywhere in the planner notes?

This was also the rallying cry of co-Friends of the Los Angeles River founder Lewis MacAdams. “When the steelhead come home, we’ll know we’ve done our jobs” he would remind basically everyone who would listen. But since his retirement, that lofty goal seems to have slipped past advocacy groups that once rallied around his vision.

At that July press conference, California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) proudly announced that he’d chosen this location, Marsh Park, because it was his first legislative victory. And, good on him. We need to have more public spaces for our underserved communities. But as I listened to one after another of the elected and appointed officials at the press conference, not one mentioned the steelhead trout, or creating an environment for its plausible return.

One hundred million dollars is quite a large sum of money and, as I understand it, the cash will be divvied up through grants chosen by two public agencies, each tasked with creating more green space along the river. That’s all good, but what about the river, itself?

As I say in the clip above, I’ve never caught a cold-water fish in the LA River because they’re aren’t any. The habitat that once supported thousands of steelhead is now so hot only intrepid warm-water fish can survive.

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(Credit Jim Burns)

In 2011, I asked city officials and river advocates about this same topic in “Will steelhead ever return to the L.A. River?”

“The southern steelhead Distinct Population Segment goes from the Santa Maria River in San Luis Obispo County down to the Border.  Say 50-75 years ago, the size of that population run was about 30,000 adults,” said Trout Unlimited’s Chuck Bonham, who will be the new director of the Department of Fish and Game, if his appointment is confirmed by the state senate. If you pull out a map and take a look at the enormous area he’s talking about, it’s obvious that even during the heyday, there weren’t a lot of fish.

Today, those numbers have plummeted in the area and are at zero in the river, itself. Southern California Steelhead have been on the Endangered Species list since 1997. To be put on it, a species must be viewed by scientists as imminently in danger of becoming extinct.”
As select administrators for both the city and the Army Corps huddle over what the redesign should look like, one that will bring more than $1 billion to river restoration one this decade and beyond,  let’s hope that a habitat worthy of steelhead trout is at the top of their agenda, before parks, before soccer fields and before condo developments.

Is it too crazy to ask for a fish passage through all of the concrete up to and including Devil’s Gate dam in Pasadena, the gateway to historical steelhead spawning grounds?

Is it too crazy to give the Los Angeles river mascot “Steelhead Fred” an opportunity to return to his historic home water?

This time we need to take the sober, long view before our “rush to progress” clouds our vision, one in which we return to nature — and to ourselves — what was taken away.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

p.s. Can you find the flaw in the KCET video? Let me know. 

“p.s. Can you find the flaw in the KCET video? Let me know.”

Looks like a steelhead SALMON to me……

 

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