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


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. 

Owens Valley hopes for $500,000 to fund unique river trail

ORWT Bottom d_PanoramaprintCrop

Looking west, at the Alabama Hills and the Sierra Nevada mountains with Lone Pine Peak and Mount Whitney visible in the distance. (All photos courtesy Inyo County Water District)

UPDATE: Response from the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power —

The Inyo County Water Department has submitted a grant application to the California River Parkways Grant Program for funds to establish the Lower Owens River Water Trail. This trail will occupy a portion of the Lower Owens River Project (LORP), which is a large scale river restoration project jointly managed by the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Inyo County, and occurs on City of Los Angeles property.

LADWP is in support of the concept of the Lower Owens River Trail. However, prior to moving forward, Inyo County will need to work with LADWP to determine if construction and long term operations and maintenance of the Lower Owens River Trail conflicts with the goals of the LORP, pose environmental impacts, and/or other issues.


The opportunity to explore unlikely waterways in unlikely places in California may soon increase, adding another one to your bucket list.

By late June, the California Natural Resources Agency will decide if it wants to fund a $500,000 grant to establish the Owens River Water Trail. If funded, the trail would include more than six miles of the lower Owens near the town of Lone Pine on the eastern face of the Sierra. It’s a possibility that enthuses those who love the outdoors.

“The Trout Unlimited regional office, located in Mammoth Lakes, supports the proposed Owens River Water Trail Project.  We encourage the diversification of fishing opportunity in the Eastern Sierra, particularly since the cold-water fishery in the northern part of Inyo County receives heavy pressure,” said TU’s regional representative Jessica Strickland in an email. “Distributing angling pressure across the county would not only improve the fishery, but also the fisherman’s experience.”

If funded, the trail would join one around the San Francisco Bay as a new recreational destination in the state, and would possibly be the only river water trail.

But, whereas the Bay Area water trail is described as “a non-linear trail with no beginning or end,” the river trail would have defined put in and take out points centering around this small town of just over 2,000.

Larry Freilich, mitigation manager for the Inyo County Water District, has build an impressive group of supporters for the project, with letters of recommendation from the American Canoe Association, to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, to the owner of the local McDonalds. All told more than two dozen organizations, local buisnesses and individuals support widening the tule-choked waterway.

Yet, the tules can only be tamed if old politics can be forgotten.

When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began pumping more court-ordered water into the lower Owens in 2011, fly fishers rejoiced at the possibility of exploring another waterway closer to home. Unfortunately, besides mitigating dust from the dry Owens Lake, the unintended consequence of the $39-million Lower Owens River Project was increased tule growth over the river’s 62 miles that all but choked off recreational fishing, drift-boating and kayaking.

Owens Lower-In the Tules

Explosive tule growth clogs kayak passage on the Lower Owens River.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Mark Hill, lead scientist of the LORP, explaining the increased flow created 3,000 acres of water and wetlands, 4,000 largemouth bass and 2,000 bluegill per mile, as well as 108 species of birds, 41 of them new to the area at that time.

With this kind of wildlife resurgence, access for fisherfolk, kayakers and birders remains a major issue and one seen by some in town as impeding new recreational activities. And outdoor recreation is big business. According to The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership 37 million Americans hunt and fish, spending $58 billion annually.

“Although CalTrout has not been involved, we do support the project and notion of increasing recreational opportunities within the Owen Valley corridor. Importantly to us is trying to enhance the awareness of source water to end users and this project could help support that concept,” said Mark Drew, Ph.D., Director, Sierra Headwaters Program, California Trout Director, Inyo-Mono Integrated Regional Water Management Program, via email.

For Angelinos not entirely sure what “awareness of source water to end users” means, one of the greatest water grabs in history literally drained the Owens River Valley in favor of a then-small-city of Los Angeles some 100 miles to the south. L.A. would have never become our favorite megapolis without the city purchasing 250,000 acres in Inyo County, along with its water rights. The story of Irish immigrant William Mulholland, his famous quote, “There it is, take it,” and the creation of the aqueduct in 1913 are well known.

But what was once considered an Industrial Revolution-strength feat of politicking, engineering and deception now plays to a new generation, one in which Elon Musk can pre-sell 276,000 Tesla Model 3 electric cars in 48 hours, and kayaking trips are offered on two different sections of the Los Angeles River each summer, thanks to river activist George Wolfe’s rebellious kayaking efforts that ended with the Environmental Protection Agency declaring the L.A. River protected under the Clean Water Act.

Now, a mere eight years later, the L.A. River is poised for a $1 billion makeover, to liberate at least some of its 51 miles from concrete and restore its ecosystem.

To abate the clog of tules – 8 feet high and 10 feet wide in some sections — the water’s owner must fully sign on to the project. Although both phone and email requests for an interview to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power went unanswered, its stance on the proposed water trail project, at least at the time of this writing, is conditional at best.

In a letter dated Aug. 21, 2015, James G. Yannotta, LADWP’s aqueduct manager, wrote: “The Inyo County Water Department’s current proposal for grant funding includes new infrastructure and channel excavation activities that were not originally contemplated in the original Plan, and also in new locations than were previously considered. As a result, LADWP is in support of exploring the feasibility of the new project but cannot yet grant authorization to proceed with implementation without more information regarding potential impacts and and/or conflicts with LORP goals. Therefore, LADWP would like to extend support for grant funding through the planning stage and subsequent evaluation under the California Environmental Quality Act for the Lower Owens River Water Trail.”

The original plan Yannotta cites is the Lower Owens River Project Recreation Use Plan (LORP).

Other potential opposition to the plan – and included in the grant proposal – included some ranchers who voiced concern about being sued if a gate was left open and a cow wandered onto a road and was hit, fisherfolks worried secret fishing spots would be identified, and Native American tribes concerned about pot hunting and disturbances of cultural sites.

Plot 4 Capture

The Owens River Water Trail would create a six-mile recreational area near Lone Pine, California.

The application contains straightforward solutions to these problems: for ranchers, install cattle guards, and include “how to behave in cattle country” interpretive materials and signage; for fishers, print map areas that are popular and accessible, so as to keep the best spots secret; and for Native Americans, identify sensitive sites and route use elsewhere, and include educational information in interpretive materials and signage.

The next move is twofold: for the LADWP to give the project its unconditional support; and, of course, to see if the CNRA considers $500,000 the right price for a new generation of recreation.

See you on the river, Jim Burns




Major conservation organization awards philanthropist



Louis Bacon (Courtesy TRCP)

(Press release) Philanthropist Louis Bacon, Sen. Martin Heinrich, and Sen. James Risch will be recognized at eighth annual awards dinner in April 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is proud to announce the recipients of our eighth annual Capital Conservation Awards, to be presented on April 27, 2016, to three honorees building a legacy of support for fish and wildlife on Capitol Hill and across the country.

The TRCP’s 2016 Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award will go to Louis Bacon, a conservation philanthropist and founder of The Moore Charitable Foundation, Inc. As the president of MCF and chairman of its affiliate foundations, Bacon has spent more than two decades conserving threatened habitat, protecting open spaces, and safeguarding clean water through the support of more than 200 local, national, and international organizations. He was also instrumental in the founding of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international organization of over 260 Waterkeeper organizations working across six continents to protect rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways.

Bacon has authorized conservation easements on more than 210,600 acres throughout the United States—including a parcel which is the largest such donation received by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a critical step in the establishment of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area as the nation’s 558th unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Combined with additional donations authorized by Bacon of conservation easements on Tercio and Red River Ranches, these donations help form a landscape-scale conservation effort of 800,000 acres of protected lands stretching from Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado to northern New Mexico.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) will be presented with the 2016 James D. Range Conservation Award—named after TRCP’s co-founder and conservation visionary—for their dedication to protecting what sportsmen value from both sides of the aisle in Congress.

An avid sportsman, Sen. Heinrich has championed conservation funding, clean water protections, and the expansion of recreational access to America’s public lands. He is the principal Democratic co-sponsor of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, which would reauthorize key conservation programs and protect public access to hunting and fishing, and has staunchly opposed the transfer of national public lands to individual Western states.

Sen. Risch is a leader of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus and has co-sponsored legislation designed to reauthorize key conservation programs, put an end to fire borrowing, and promote renewable energy on public lands. As governor of Idaho, Risch worked with local government, tribes, conservation groups, and sportsmen to author a strong state roadless rule that protects national forests.

The TRCP’s gala event in April will bring together policy-makers, conservation advocates, and outdoor industry leaders at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

LA Times reveals Frank Gehry as river renewal architect

The river's landmarks are changing. (Peter Bennett)

The look of the river will undoubtedly change under Frank Gehry’s influence. (Peter Bennett)

UPDATE: from the Aug. 11 Letters section of the Los Angeles Times

Others’ plans, please

Re “Gehry’s waterfront vision,” Aug. 8

Having fly-fished the L.A. River for five years, I know that miles of it are a wilderness now. There are so many fish and birds.

When it rains in the mountains, there are giant waves of water that flow into the river. The waves last for a few days, and then there’s finding the fish again — the bass, bluegill, carp and crappie. The Los Angeles River used to be a natural steelhead salmon run — as did Malibu Creek and other waterways south of us. This part of the Los Angeles River is mighty and dangerous, verdant and lush, not to be tamed easily. It is a flood channel.

The embodiment of Gehry’s work is artistic juxtaposition, a life work that stands out from the environment, not integrated with it. The revitalization of the Los Angeles River has produced a wilderness in our midst. Gehry’s participation is odd.

I would like to see proposals other than Gehry’s.


Culver City

Thank you for this story demonstrating that the era of the star architect has yet to sunset. While Frank Gehry, who will draft the master plan for the redevelopment of the Los Angeles River, is certainly one of the most talented and revolutionary architects of our time, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s comparison of him to the greatest landscape architect in North America — and yes, this is a separate credentialed profession — is nearsighted.

Perhaps the best indication of the mayor’s misplaced focus is that although the team of Olmsted and Vaux developed the design for New York’s Central Park, it is Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect, whose work has remained timeless and a model for all other major civic parks. The seamless orchestration of natural systems and infrastructure make Olmsted’s work genius.

If the mayor really believes that we need a sexy star capable of creating a master vision to complement and elevate the work previously accomplished, I would recommend studying this list of the next possible Olmsteds: James Corner, Laurie Olin, George Hargreaves, Adriaan Geuze and Michael Van Valkenburgh. Not only are these landscape architects capable, they also have all accomplished similar work and seen it built in their lifetimes.



The writer is a lecturer in the USC School of Architecture.
Has anyone told Gehry that the continuous flow of the L.A. River in this time of serious drought is about 23 million gallons per day of treated water?

Enough to serve about 85,000 homes, this water originally was intended to replenish the aquifer beneath the San Fernando Valley. We pay for the water, we pay to have it treated, and we dump it into the river.

Why not reduce the dumping until the drought ends and use it as originally planned?


Valley Village


Here’s the biggest story since $1 billion Alt. 20 got the nod earlier this summer: Rock star architect, father of the undulating Disney Hall downtown — arguably the highest-profile living American architect — is at the helm of the river renewal. Read about it here.

And check out the L.A. Times architecture critic’ interview with Gehry here.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Mayor’s blast email celebrates US Army Corp revitalization approval

20140103-101346.jpgJim —
It’s been a long fight but the restoration of the LA River just won its largest victory yet! Today, the US Army Corps of Engineers unanimously endorsed the most comprehensive revitalization plan to open parks, bike lanes, and community space along 11 miles of our river.

Join me in celebrating this great news by sharing it with your friends:

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This would not have been possible without you and the tens of thousands of Angelenos who came to public meetings, signed petitions, and took action to build a more beautiful Los Angeles.

Thank you!

Eric Garcetti