Volunteer Opportunity: Sepulveda Basin clean-up set for April 13

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River Health Update: Biologists and volunteers return to work on the upper river fish study

dozer

STAYING FOCUSED on the fish study at hand, volunteers get some company in the background. (Credit RCDSMM Stream Team)

By Rosi Dagit
Guest Contributor

On our return to Sepulveda Basin, to continue the upper river fish survey, we captured 203 fish, a far cry from the more than 3,600 tilapia fry caught this time last year.

There had been the first major rain of the season the day before, on Monday, Nov. 21, with between 0.75-1.25 inches over the LA River basin. Sediment and the remains of several homeless encampments were in our car park site. Muck was unconsolidated and varied from 1-6 inches deep. We couldn’t walk far upstream, starting 30 yards to the underpass at Burbank Blvd. because the water was too deep but flow in the main stem concrete area where the sample sites are located was shallow. Most of the vegetation along the banks was gone with just a few patches of water primrose (Ludwigia hexapetala), a few cattails and some willows closer to the bridge were all that remained.

The majority of fish were non-native juvenile Tilapia sp. and Gambusia affinis. Both of these species are common and abundant throughout the LA River, where they were initially released to control mosquito larvae. Samples of both species, as well as fathead minnow, juvenile red swamp crayfish and Asiatic clams were also collected and frozen for toxicology testing.

A single adult Plecostomus (Hypostomus plecostomus), which is a common aquarium fish, was also found washed up on the concrete bank at site 2. It recovered when placed into cool water, but was collected for toxicology testing.

An Army Corps ‘dozer and dump truck moved sediment and debris out of the concrete channel, according to their management permit. The site supervisor kindly allowed us to complete our site 1 and 2 sampling before they moved heavy equipment into that area. The rest of our six sites were upstream of their work area.

plecostomus

YOU NEVER KNOW when an aquarium dweller will show up in the LA River, in this case the gnarly Plecostomus. (Credit RCDSMM Stream Team)

Following collection of what looked like an arroyo chub (but was later confirmed to be a fathead minnow) at site 1, just downstream of the disturbance in the channel, we contacted the California Department of Fish and Game about this potential threat to any other arroyo chub that might have washed down.

Dagit is the Senior Conservation Biologist, Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains.

From today’s e-mailbag …

Thanks for all the information you’ve posted about the LA River over the years. I was finally able to make it to the LA River during my recent visit to California. My friend and I started at Marsh Park (near the 2/I-5) and did some exploring with our Tenkara rods. Wrapped up the day at Spokes Café. The LA River surpassed my expectations!

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David Oh says:
June 22, 2015 at 3:05 pm Edit

Hey Jim,
Have been trying my luck near the Sepulveda Basin. No luck but any day outdoors no matter how cold, uncomfortable, or skunky beats a sedentary afternoon on the couch.

From what I can collect, there is life but on the bottom of the river. They weren’t going for any of my dries (I usually use a scud, killer bug as my go to emergency fly and even that didn’t work out too well). I ran across some environmental students that had a kayak hooked up with sonar and they let me there are schools of fish down in the river. (I was near the bridge where the river and Balboa meet). The biggest problem however is where the Glendale Narrows have plenty of spots that you can fit to get to the river, The Sepulveda Basin was very hard to find elbow room of any sorts (I have not walked the complete length but a few good miles)

Balboa lake is an awful mess on the weekend (as expected)
Could be good for micro fishing though.

I did find a section where the lake empties out into the river, and for what I can surmise as about 200 yards is a very nice looking stream. Were it not in Los Angeles, where it is, I would almost guarantee amazing fishing in these spots. You just have to ignore empty modelo 20 pack boxes sometimes though.

Let me do some more exploring and maybe I can let you in on a more educated review.

Two L.A. River rec. zones open for summer splashing

PADDLE UP: The L.A. Conservation Corps guides a group through still waters and overhanging willows. (Jim Burns)

PADDLE UP: The L.A. Conservation Corps guides a group through still waters and overhanging willows. (Jim Burns)

Fly-fishers, grab your egg patterns.
Kayakers, adjust your life vests.
Birders, shine your binocular lenses.

because …

once again water recreation is going live in the Glendale Narrows in Elysian Valley and in a portion of the Sepulveda Basin. Hats off to councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority and the U.S. Army Corps for keeping it afloat (haha) this year.

The dets for May 26 through Sept. 1, sunrise to sunset:

GA-RUMP: So is this a Western Toad or a Western Spadefoot Toad? (Jim Burns)

GA-RUMP: So is this a Western Toad or a Western Spadefoot Toad? (Jim Burns)

— Flyfishing/traditional fishing are both super-fun, and don’t forget to bring your kids along. You will need a fishing license for each rod, but it’s well worth the money. Remember this is the only time of the year that you can legally fish the river. Check out this story I wrote for KCET for details.
Tickets to explore one and a half miles of the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area with LA River Expeditions go on sale tomorrow at noon. I donned a life vest a couple of years back and had a blast.
— In Glendale Narrow, rent a kayak at Marsh Park through L.A. River Kayaks. Or paddle through our very own rapids with L.A. River Kayak Safari by booking here.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: Army Corps levels 43 acres of Sepulveda Basin habitat

This fly-fisherman just about set the river on fire! Maybe we should send this snap to "Ghost Hunters."

This fly-fisherman is staking carp, a non-native species of the Los Angeles River. Would all carp be killed in the river once reconstruction begins?

I was shocked to read this story in the Los Angeles Times today that begins: “An area that just a week ago was lush habitat on the Sepulveda Basin’s wild side, home to one of the most diverse bird populations in Southern California, has been reduced to dirt and broken limbs — by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Read the entire story by Louis Sahagun here.

With the public comment period for the long-awaited ARBOR study coming up this spring, the Corps may have a public relations nightmare on its hands. In this historic moment, the pubic will weigh in on which of four alternative reconstruction plans makes the most sense. That plan will then be sent to Washington for approval and funding. Make no mistake, the river will be changed, no matter which plan moves forward. The Corps and the city of Los Angeles are partners in the redevelopment.

As one highly placed city official emailed me recently (in other words, before this happened), “Remember that the fundamental purpose of the Study is to improve the ecosystem values in the LA River — and that means riparian habitat that is good for wildlife, including fish species.”

Just last week, I walked part of the river with a Corps biologist, who told me that she studied maps from the late 1800s to see which plants were prevalent along the river during that time. Re-establishing those plants along the river will undoubtedly be part of all four alternatives.

Up until this happened, Sepulveda Basin was the beautiful place where environmentalists, river advocates, Los Angeles and the Corps had found common ground.  But with the Audubon Society calling for an investigation into the loss of habitat for 250 species of birds, as well as mammals, reptiles and fish, my guess would be the trust the Corps has been building within the community has been sheared by their bulldozer’s edge. Developing.

See you on the river, Jim Burns