TU receives $20K for ‘Vamos a Pescar’ program

Off Tha' Hook

ONE OF 2015’S WINNERS Issaih Salgado, then-15, of Palmdale (left) hangs with event organizer Bill Bowling. (Jim Burns)

And now for some gloom-free news: For all of you who have sorely missed FoLAR’s “Off Tha Hook” fishing throwback on the LA River, rejoice:

Trout Unlimited’s South Coast Chapter, based in OC, has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to provide instruction, equipment, and support for local families to participate in a series of fishing outings on the Los Angeles River this year, according to the TU website.

The funding for this grant comes from the George H. W. Bush Vamos a Pescar Education Fund administered by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. The Vamos a Pescar initiative is focused on engaging Hispanic families in fishing, boating, and conservation activities.

As a consultant on “Off Tha Hook,”  I’m super excited kids will once again have a structured way to engage our river and catch the passion we all love. My favorite memories of the three fishing throwback years were of kids — kids rushing down the rip-rap to get to the water; kids learning how to knot a hook on a line; kids wondering where in the heck all the fish went; and — blam — kids hooking up on possibly the first fish of their young lives.

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TROUT UNLIMITED’S Bob Blankenship meets the official greeter during the last “Off Tha Hook” in 2016. (Jim Burns).

As TU chapter president Robert Blankenship, who was instrumental in “Off Tha Hook”  along with FoLAR co-founder Lewis MacAdams and former all-star-staffer William Preston Bowling, said in that same post:

“In an increasingly wired world, fishing encourages Americans young and old to discover and connect with the nature around us, even in highly urbanized settings such as the greater Los Angeles area. This grant funding will allow us to introduce dozens of kids and adults to the wonders of fishing who may never have had such opportunity.”

Events begin in May, including one on a no-fishing-license-required day, July 7. Read the post for more information.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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Arroyo Seco Foundation receives $50,000 for trout study

The first book published by Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach details the struggles of the endangered Southern California Steelhead. (Courtesy Aquarium of the Pacific)

The Arroyo Seco Foundation has received a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to determine the best stream conditions for introducing trout, according to the Pasadena Star-News. 

Tim Brick, the foundation’s managing director, adds:

“We’re still look for trout, but the stream is below 1 cubic feet per second again. We need to identify the pools and resting spots where the trout are hiding. Probably Bear Canyon is the most likely spot. Anyone care to go on a trout scout adventure?”

His email is tim@arroyoseco.org.

Finally, to get a taste of what fishing used to be like here, I’m rerunning my 2014 review of historian Tom Tomlinson’s excellent book, ““Against the Currents: The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead” below.

***

If you think you’ve finished your summer reading list, stop! Consider one more book, please.

“Against the Current, The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead” could not, in truth, be a more unlikely tale. Author Tom Tomlinson takes the reader on an environmental roller coaster ride that matches our region’s boom-or-bust water supply, and throws in plenty of human Greek drama.

Beautiful color on this trout, which was released, unharmed, back to the water. (Jim Burns)

What just over a 100 years ago was a region so pristine that Easterners came here to mend their health, through hunting, fishing and soaking up the sunshine, quickly turned into what we have today. As someone who has lived here for over 30 years with no plans of leaving, I’m not complaining, but when you read this book and realize what it once was — especially if you enjoy fly fishing the San Gabes — well, get our your handkerchief.

Sob.

One fact to prime the tears: In the early 1900s, the then-equivalent of the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife set the limit of fish taken at … 100. If you’ve ever put boots to dirt and fly to water in our mountains, this should give you a chill. Guests at the local fishing camps regularly hauled in lots of rainbows, and, yes, steelhead. And they hauled, and they hauled and they hauled. Think buffalo in the plains states.

How we got from those abundant fishy beginnings to where we are today is a story of good intentions gone to greed, it’s about that simple.

As for the steelhead once again taking center stage as we enter the Great Los Angeles River Rebuilding, well, this magnificent creature needs our help to get off the endangered species list.

When Congress approves the billion bucks for a river makeover early next year (Update: As of this writing three years later, the federal money hasn’t arrived), I hope every politician, every engineer and every investor gets a copy of this book. They should look up the section on one Henry O’Melveny, lawyer, fishing advocate, Creel Club founder, ice plant owner and, sadly, leader of the pack that done the natural inhabitants of our erratic rivers and streams in. Indeed, he is a figure as defining of Greek tragedy as Oedipus or Agamemnon.

Fast forward to today, and a mayor who is bringing in major bucks from Washington for the river as well as public transportation. I hope that Mayor Eric Garcetti reads this slim volume. It is the most compelling work to date on why the natural habitat can’t take a backseat to our own urban comfort zone. That story already happened.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

KCET hosts LA River documentary and station fundraiser Sunday

Check out this documentary, Sunday,  May 28, 3 p.m. on KCET-HD. The producer interviewed me about fly fishing, and I missed it the first time around (The down side of being too anxious to get rid of your cable TV!). All I know is legal fishing season is almost here, starting in the recreational zones Memorial Day. Get your rod, reel and license and get on out there!

Here’s the blurb:

“A Concrete River: Reviving The Waters of Los Angeles” chronicles the importance of the Los Angeles River culturally, economically and ecologically. Supported by a matching challenge grant from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, this special telecast takes viewers on a historical tour of the Los Angeles River starting with the native Tongva tribes that lived along its banks before the Spanish arrived, all the way through to the present day.

Co-hosted by Armenian filmmaker Carla Garapedian (Assoc. Producer, “The Promise”) and actor Raphael Sbarge, the special presentation of the documentary treats viewers to various popular activities along the LA River including bird watching, kayaking and fly fishing. The 51-mile-long concrete water basin protects the city of Los Angeles from seasonal floods and, with the enthusiasm and support of many Angelenos, the river is roaring back to life.

Heal the Bay report finds poor water quality within LA River rec zones

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A freight train roars by a graffiti-covered container in the currently desolate river section know as the Bowtie Parcel. (Jim Burns)

The nonprofit Heal the Bay, which publishes the yearly Beach Report Card, Wednesday released a 37-page water study of the Los Angeles River. Weekly water samples from Rattlesnake and Steelhead parks in the Elysian Valley and one in the Sepulveda Basin revealed a fecal indicator bacteria that exceeded federal standards.

“The study shows that popular recreation spots along the Los Angeles River suffer from very poor water quality, which poses health risks to the growing number of people who fish, swim and kayak in its waters,” according to a Heal the Bay press release.

More than six years ago, kayakers proved that the river was indeed a “traditional navigable waterway,” a legal term, and the Environmental Protection Agency invoked the Clean Water Act and triggered its protections.

“EPA is committed to a healthy L.A. River, and we will continue to work with our partners at the state, and other stakeholders like Heal the Bay, to improve water quality, habitat and recreational opportunities,” wrote EPA Public Affairs Specialist Soledad Calvino, in an email. “Water quality is an ongoing challenge in urban rivers, which require monitoring, assessment and measures to address pollutants from stormwater runoff and other sources.”

The EPA was reviewing the Heal the Bay findings at the time of this writing.

Closer to home, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office lauded the fact that L.A. has made progress “by significantly reducing trashing in our stormwater and reducing spills by 85 percent of the last 10 years.

Kayaking activist George Wolfe was instrumental last year in establishing the Los Angeles River as a "navigable waterway," which invoked the Clean Water Act. (courtesy George Wolfe)

Kayaking activist George Wolfe was instrumental in establishing the Los Angeles River as a “navigable waterway,” which invoked the Clean Water Act. (Courtesy George Wolfe)

“However, bacterial levels tend to exceed federal standards, which is not a surprise for an urban river that receives runoff from more than 800 square miles of heavily populated areas,” according to Liz Crosson, the mayor’s water policy advisor.

Earlier this month, an old sewer pipe, built in 1929,  ruptured in Boyle Heights, causing some 2.4 million gallons of effluent to spill into the river. Health officials closed both Seal Beach and Long Beach for a time. The largest spill in L.A. history comprised some 30 million gallons in 1998, blamed on El Nino storms.

The spill occurred miles from both recreation zones, which are both upriver.

Based on its findings, Heal the Bay recommends:

  • Kayaking and Angling: People should limit water contact, especially avoiding hand-to-face water contact. Users should not enter the water with an open wound, if immunocompromised, or after a rainfall. If there is water contact, rinse off with soap and water afterward.
  • Swimming: While many families recreate in the water, particularly on hot days, adults and children should avoid swimming in the L.A. River, particularly submersing their heads under water. We envision a swimmable L.A. River one day but current water quality is not yet at a healthful level. If there is any water contact, rinse off with soap and water afterward.
  • Public notification: All groups promoting recreation in the L.A. River should provide water quality information and best practices to all participants, using consistent, accurate and prominent information on all outreach materials, and in multiple languages, consistent with the demographics of visitors.
  • Increased monitoring: The City of Los Angeles or responsible municipal agency should institute, at a minimum, weekly water quality testing for fecal indicator bacteria in the recreation zones during the open season (Memorial Day to the end of September), and at other known swimming spots along the Los Angeles River.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Owens River Water Trail: $500,000 closer to reality, but obstacles remain

Tule

Kind of gives a new meaning to “out in the tules,” doesn’t it? (Jim Burns)

Volunteers who worked on the nascent Owens River Water Trail in June woke up to some good news this week: The California Natural Resources Agency selected the site in Lone Pine for funding.

“Your fine contribution of labor and/or equipment and/or publicity was instrumental at helping secure the grant. All four of the Resources staff were able to personally experience the river and see your work—and they were impressed, ” wrote Larry Freilich, Mitigation Manager for the Inyo County Water Department, in an email.”The $500,000 award will be to open up the first designated river trail in California.”

But while supporters of the project are gratified to see funding slated to become a reality, there is still work to be completed,  namely negotiate site and construction agreements with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which has maintained a mostly antagonistic relationship with valley residents for more than 100 years. The Los Angeles Aqueduct opened in 1913, taking water from the valley some 230 miles to Los Angeles. That action drained the historic Owens Lake, and created “the largest single source of particulate matter air pollution in the country,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Lower Owens River Project, a joint project between Inyo Water and LADWP begun in 2006, began reinvigorating a 62-mile stretch of the Owens River, raising hopes of bringing kayaks, fishers and birders to the area. Although wildlife did return, the unintended consequence of more water was more tules, the thick, tall weeds that blossomed along many stretches of the Owens River. And, in effect, the tules strangled efforts to bring fresh outdoor tourism to the area.

The current river trail is an effort to revive those hopes.

In April, the Owens Valley Committee wrote on its Facebook page that “On page 8 of the 119 page Grant Application, one of the most important aspects of the proposed River Trail is articulated: ‘Creating an experience where the disabled can enjoy nature in a unique way is one of the primary goals of the project. Kayaking is one of the few sports that offer independent recreational opportunities for the handicapped.’

The post, based on this article in LARFF, continues “Almost a million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have an officially recognized disability as the result of those conflicts. Millions more suffer with emotional scars. What an incredible opportunity this River Trail would be for our disabled veterans to enjoy nature. How dare DWP hold back its full support of this project!”

Freilich garnered support for his grant proposal not only locally, but also in Los Angeles. At least two separate kayaking groups donned wetsuits over two separate weekends in June to hack and slash away at the tules, creating a mini-kayak passage on the river.

Yet, if ecosystem can be reshaped fairly easily by volunteers efforts, the same cannot be said of the competing interests for Sierra water. Restoring water to the lower Owens River took 10 years, two environmental lawsuits and a court order fining LADWP $5,000 a day for missing deadlines. In all, penalties came to more than $3 million, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Exactly how long it will be before kayaking enthusiasts paddle down this water trail outside Lone Pine remains to be seen. A timeline for creating a water trail, presented at the California Trails and Greenways Conference in Lake Tahoe in 2013, shows:

  •  Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) grant application process (8 months)
  •   DBW budgeting process (12 months)
  •   DBW grant contracting process (3 months)
  •   Grantee consultant selection and hiring process (4 months)
  •  Project California Environmental Quality Act permits and design process (18 months)
  •   Grantee bidding and awarding process (2 months)
  •   Project construction (6 months – more if confined to construction windows due to migratory or nesting concerns)
  • Total = 53 months

But the next step for Inyo County is to convince the LADWP of the feasibility of the project, and its ability to successfully shepherd the river trail from drawing board to reality.

“Inyo County has proposed a project on City of Los Angeles lands that provides paddle access to the Lower Owens River, “said James Annatto, manager for the L.A. Aqueduct, via email.” As the land owner of the project area, we have concerns as to the potential impacts related to the project.  The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is meeting with Inyo County to work through the land use and other issues.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Klamath River dams agreement puts steelhead back in the picture

Klamath River Dams – saying thank you

When truly great things happen for wild steelhead recovery, it is important to share the news.   We took one of the greatest steps forward in wild steelhead recovery yesterday at the mouth of the Klamath River.  Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, California Governor Jerry Brown and Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed new amendments to the Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and a related Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement.  The revised KHSA will ensure that removal of 4 major dams on the Klamath River takes place as scheduled in the year 2020, opening about 500 miles of wild steelhead habitat.  Take a moment to thank Secretary Sally Jewell, California Governor Jerry Brown, and Oregon Governor Kate Brown.  

To learn more, read the story by Sam Davidson below.

Major win for one of America’s best coldwater fisheries

By Sam Davidson

Five hundred miles. That’s a pretty significant distance, right? Now, imagine swimming that far.
That’s how many river miles will re-opened to native steelhead in the Klamath River under the terms of a revised agreement between the federal government, the states of California and Oregon, and the utility company PacifiCorp.

The amended Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement, and the Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement were signed today at the mouth of the Klamath River by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., of California, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon and PacifiCorp CEO Stefan Bird.

Under the new-and-improved KHSA, four old, unproductive hydropower dams on the Klamath River will be removed beginning in the year 2020. This action will open up 500 miles of habitat for steelhead and some 420 miles for salmon.

PacifiCorp and the state of California will pay for the cost of dam removal using existing funds already set aside for this purpose. No federal funds will be required.

“This is a major win for one of America’s greatest coldwater fisheries,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The river restoration called for under the new KHSA will be the largest in U.S. history. TU is proud to have played an important role in the long effort to bring about this restoration and to resolve one of our country’s most intractable water challenges.”

TU California Director Brian Johnson has been closely involved in the many years of difficult negotiations that led to the amended agreement. Johnson attended the signing ceremony today and spoke to the benefits of the agreement for fish—and people.

“The Klamath, historically, has been the third most productive river system for salmon and steelhead on the West Coast,” he said. “Thanks to the leadership of Secretary Jewell, Gov. Brown of California and Gov. Brown of Oregon, and PacifiCorp, we now have a real chance to return it to its former glory.”

At the same time, Johnson added, “TU remains dedicated not only to restoring one of America’s greatest salmon and steelhead fisheries, but also to adoption of durable water-sharing agreements that will provide greater water security for tribes, upper basin agriculture and communities up and down the river.”

TU issued a joint statement today on the signing of the amended KHSA, with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, California Trout, the Northern California Council of the International Federation of Fly Fishers and American Rivers. The statement declares strong support for dam removal on the Klamath and calls for renewed commitment to a “basin-wide solution for water sharing, water supply infrastructure, and habitat restoration.”

Johnson is quoted in advance reports on the KHSA signing ceremony from the Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle. An overview of Klamath River water issues and the settlement agreement process can be found here and here.

Sam Davidson is California Communications Director for Trout Unlimited.