Last fall, the legislature passed AB1558 with little fanfare. In fact, I hadn’t heard about it until I received an email this week from River LA extolling me to take a survey to help “ensure that the River Ranger Plan reflects your community’s needs.”
I’m a survey sucker, so I enthusiastically began filling this one out, checking boxes. But when I came to the screen above I had a sad realization: Once again, the fishing community that grows more vigorous with each passing spring carp spawn, was sidelined as a recreational activity.
But when it comes to fly fishing and spin fishing, well, get ready to fill in the “other” box.
As a constituency, it’s time for all of us to wake up and start making some noise, a recurring theme of this blog. Note that the committed, spendable money going to the river is actually going around the river with a focus on creating parks and open spaces along its banks for the city’s underserved communities. That’s great — there are boxes for both “visit a park” and “picnic” — yet when I’m on the river, I don’t see many doing either one. And, how many on horseback have you actually counted on the river while you were casting?
Time is ticking away and it’s not in our favor. Surveys such as this one should holler a wake-up call to our growing community that you are all but invisible to the powerful interests taking control of our river.
If nothing else, please click on the survey and let the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy know that what you like to do on the river is fish.
Personally, I’d like to see an LA River Ranger with a 6 weight in one hand and a net in the other.
William Deverell, a historian at USC and the director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, recently penned this editorial in the Los Angeles Times. He skillfully recounts how the concrete-encased LA River came to be, but does deeper than other writers.
According to Deverell, the research for the U.S. Army Corps final work came from old-timers. Tasked with creating a profile of the river, two engineers asked these old people what it was like to grow up in the region before statehood, before the Gold Rush, even back to the Mexican and mission period.
“The people they interviewed were nonwhite: indigenous, Mexican, mixed-race mestizos. (No whites, or at least a very few, had memories that stretched back far enough to help.) These elders knew the river; it ran through their memories and lives. They grew up near it, but not too near, lest wintertime floods wash away their adobes. They drank from it, as did their livestock. They irrigated their crops from the zanjas they had carved from it. The river was lifeblood, the defining feature of the landscape.”
Yet this research from seemingly egalitarian roots was later used to create a river not for the people, but for those with money, power and clout.
As we near the approval of the renewal design plan, he advocates we not make the same mistake twice.
Thanks to Steve Kuchenski of the Pasadena Casting Club Conservation Committee for passing this along.
In an age when the dams are finally coming down, the city of Los Angeles is erecting a new one, if approved by year’s end. Advocates tout this barrier as both temporary and inflatable, instead of fixed and concrete, and its purpose twofold: to create a basin for water to fuel the Annenberg Foundation’s water wheel; and to slow the flow of treated water to the ocean.
I wonder if any have asked those who advocate for the return of steelhead to the Los Angeles River what they thought?
And I wonder, as retired FoLAR luminary Lewis MacAdams was fond of saying, did anyone ask the steelhead? If they are able to ride a winter storm surge from the beach upstream if they’d like to get stuck behind an inflatable, unnecessary dam?
Dams are coming down all over the country. In fact, 72 dams fell last year, according to American Rivers. And when they are blasted back into the dust from which they came, fish return. That list includes Benbow Dam, South Fork Eel River and Old Carmel River Dam, Carmel River, both in California.
Now we read that inflatable dams are a good idea for the LA River because the county has already used them successfully on the San Gabriel River to recharge groundwater. To me, the logic points backward, not forward.
If we want to end up with a restored river instead of a carnival, one that is renewed with native plants, fish and wildlife, one in which children and their parents can enjoy a taste of the actual river environs, instead of concrete, graffiti and drug deals, this leads exactly in the wrong direction.
Ask a San Antonioan how may fish he’s caught in the remade RiverWalk in downtown San Antonio and he will probably tell you how great the jazz clubs along with river are, and how many dining options there are now. And how much real estate value has increased. As one YouTuber put it:
“There’s no signs anywhere saying you can’t fish there, but it’s frowned upon and not many people have tried. I didn’t stick around too long, I was getting dirty looks from the employees of a nearby bar, and I think they called the cops.”
Maybe that’s fine for San Antonio, but I don’t think it’s OK for Los Angeles. After all, our own recreation zones have only been open for legal seasonal fishing for four years.
CalTrout recently released a cry for help because Southern Steelhead, currently endangered, will be extinct, along with many other native fish, within a young person’s lifetime. The advocacy group believes 45 percent of them will be extinct – not endangered, extinct – within 50 years.
So, please take a moment to write Mayor Eric Garcetti and tell him you’d rather give steelhead a chance to return to the San Gabriel Mountains than have an inflatable dam further blocking the way. That you’d rather give our youth a taste of the outdoors in our own communities. That you actually do care about the environment over development. Here is his email:
After all, when the Army Corps eventually begins to tear out the concrete near Atwater Village, the true nature of the river can be coaxed back into the 21st Century. As the water temperatures decrease, the chances of introducing native fish increase.
Using artificial means to increase water levels for a water wheel is wrong headed. In fact, like a hamster wheel, it is circling in exactly the wrong direction.
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.
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.
Today was about as perfect an L.A. fishing day as you could get: temperature in the low 70s; carp for the sighting; long stretches of river to yourself. So, what’s not to like?
The Atwater Village “temporary” barriers are still there after close to a year. Remember the Army Corps installed them last January to protect Atwater Village from the predicted El Nino flooding. Well, the possibility of getting a super soaker came and went, but the sand-filled blockades are still there. I was reminded of President Ronald Reagan’s famous line, delivered at the Berlin Wall in 1987: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
I haven’t walked the whole length, but according to a piece that ran in the Eastsider in January, it’s three miles long!
And because scaling the barriers — filled with sand and 4 feet high — is difficult, access along this very long stretch is once again contained to the walking path above the river. So, if you want to:
— fly fish
— walk your dog near river’s edge
— enjoy the occasional turtle
— bird watch
— take wildlife photographs while smelling the river’s Tide-scented waters
you won’t be doing it unless you are fit and able enough to hoist yourself up and over the barrier. Where does that leave the disabled who would like to enjoy our river?
The barriers have been there so long that weeds are actually growing in many of the containers, as if that were their intended use.
I read the Corps has decided the area is at risk if we experience a “100 year flood.” Is that the reason for not dismantling the barriers? For me, it’s a blatant attempt to keep the river away from people, just like you. Thank you, Army Corps., for attempting to protect the area, but the risk is gone and what’s left is classic overreach.
It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so if anyone is in that area, please take a shot of how high the water gets, and, of course, don’t try to access the lower river reaches. If the water rises anywhere near these dreadful barriers, I’ll retract this post. Otherwise, it’s time for all of us to echo Reagan’s words — the fight to get access to the river has been too long and hard to let it be snatched away once again by a government agency.