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. 

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Measured optimism unites steelhead event

KIDS and their parents take a break in the shade at the aquarium's Shark Lagoon. (Jim Burns)

KIDS and their parents take a break in the shade at the aquarium’s Shark Lagoon. (Jim Burns)

You have to ask yourself eventually, after catching only nonnative warm-water fish in the Los Angeles River, if all the talk about the return of native Southern California Steelhead lies somewhere between academic debate and actual pipe dream. After all, after decades of decline, this ocean-going rainbow trout is now on the endangered species list. Looking down mile after long concrete mile of river bed, it seem nearly impossible to return one steelhead to the river, let alone a healthy population.

And you would be correct in your skepticism, yet very short on your optimism, for we live in an area that once robustly supported this unique member of the Oncorhynchus mykiss family.

And optimism — measured, reasoned, for sure, but optimism none the less — was on full display at the Steelhead Science for Anglers event Saturday at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.Trout Unlimited, California Trout and Wild Steelheaders United created this must-attend free event, which would have seemed more likely in Seattle, or at least Northern California, than in Long Beach. Yet, here it was, and passing by the aquarium’s steelhead exhibit, full of young O. mykiss, to enter the large classroom for the four-hour event, there was an optimism evident. Biologists, researchers and fisherfolk varied and mixed their presentations, making it engaging to scientist and angler alike.

Both Trout Unlimited’s Drew Irby, and well-known local angler Kesley Gallagher weighed in on how to release big fish, as steelhead can weigh more than 25 pounds and grow to 45 inches in length.

“Keep the fish in the water, gills wet,” said Gallagher, which may seem like simple advice, but a quick perusal of this blog alone shows that most anglers get carried away by their “grip ‘n’ grin” photos. Anglers should avoid “tailing,” as well as grabbing the fish with grip gloves, or injuring its slime covering with a mesh net.

TU’s John McMillan cited steelhead research linking time out of water to reduced spawning capacity in Atlantic salmon. “Two minutes out of the water kills them,” he said.

Mark Capelli, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) South Central California Recovery Coordinator, reminded an audience of about 50, that before World War II catching steelhead was a winter industry. During the winter months these hearty fish return from the ocean to spawn, no easy feat. The fish literally have to surf on storm surges to gain access to their ancestral rivers and creeks, only to have to swim through a inch or two of water as conditions dry out moving upstream. His slides, remarkable for those of us used to an entirely different era, one  of depletion, underscored the vibrancy in this unique fish to our area.

“Unfortunately, the area memory of steelhead disappeared,” he said.

From 1948 through 1953, the needs of a rapidly increasing population decimated area runs that, according to newspaper accounts in the Los Angeles Times and other publications, ran into the thousands during rainy years. Dams, a prime example being the Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena that cuts off the Los Angeles River from its upper headwaters, spelled a near-death knell that would have probably killed off many species — but not this one.

BIOLOGIST Sabrina Drill speaks to the urgency of So. Cal. Steelhead recovery at the Aquarium of the Pacific on Saturday. (Jim Burns

BIOLOGIST Sabrina Drill speaks to the urgency of So. Cal. Steelhead recovery at the Aquarium of the Pacific on Saturday. (Jim Burns)

Viewed as an “indicator species” by the Environmental Protection Agency because its health is linked to its surrounding environment, steelhead thrive in both clean, colder fresh and salt water, and require unfettered access to return from its ocean sojourns to its spawning grounds inland.

As Sabrina Drill, the Natural Resources Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, reminded the audience, between 1994 and today 147 adults steelhead were observed and recorded. Yet only a year after the clean up and restoration of the Malibu Lagoon, a steelhead was spotted in May.

“If you open the door, fish will come,” said Dana McCanne, part of whose job with the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife is convincing landowners to give steelhead unfettered passage across private property. He recounted how Santa Barbara has successfully removed barriers to fish passage on Mission Creek. And by the end of summer, all of the barriers on Carpinteria Creek will have been removed, opening passage to headwater habitat.

Indeed the NOAA recover plan focuses on “more pristine watersheds” in its five regions in Southern California, home to some 22 million souls. Although its timeline — 75-100 years — is steep according to human standards, in geologic time, it’s barely a heartbeat. Armed with $30 million in restoration money, and piggybacking on the national debate over the right architect for the L.A. River, a lot could happen.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Steelhead restoration takes center stage at Frog Spot event

It was a thrill to get to present my favorite subject at the festive Frog Spot on Sunday. (William Preston Bowling)

It was a thrill to be one of the presenters at the festive Frog Spot on Sunday. (William Preston Bowling)

Oh, the tall tales fisherfolk tell. As a matter of fact, they say that if you weren’t born with the ability to stretch the truth just a wee bit, spending time on the water will surely school you in that all-too-human trait.

But, at the Frog Spot, sharing and learning more about fishing the L.A. River Sunday, not a tall tale emerged from the gathered fishing fanatics, just a bounty of hard-won knowledge about our river. The weather was perfect; the setting, urban-divine, as bicyclists zoomed along the bike lane, possibly fired up by CicLAvia, while AMTRAK whistled its station arrival not far away.

— William Preston Bowling, who organized the first Off Tha’ Hook fishing derby in September, served as MC, but he also filled in the crowd of a dozen or so participants on Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) line recovery efforts. Your line has a life of around 5,000 years, so please think twice before tossing that next bird’s nest into the water. Grove Pashley, of LA River Kayak Safari, reminded us of two blue herons separately caught up in bird’s nests of line in the last couple of years. I know one died, but I’m not sure of the other’s fate.

Bowling said that soon there will be line disposal tubes at high-traffic areas along the river. FoLAR will recycle the line by sending it to Berkley, a company that actually re-purposes used line, turning it into new.

— Robert Blankenship from Trout Unlimited turned his darkroom PowerPoint into a daytime handout, and regaled us with tales of Southern California Steelhead recovery efforts. His presentation was made all the more sweet by a guest appearance from Tom Tomlinson, who wrote “Against the Currents: The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead” this year, published by the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. If you haven’t read this important book yet, pick it up.

Blankenship showed us how Santa Barbara has re-designed its flood control channels to include holding water for steelhead returning from the ocean. The story of the steelhead here in our truly unwelcoming climes is one of courage, fortitude and grit. There’s actually a self-guided tour that links steelhead art and brew pubs, which sounded like the best of both worlds to many of us. Look for more from TU under the local leadership of Blankenship, a strong advocate for our river.

— Next, Lizzy Montgomery from the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains told us about the INaturalist app, and how to use it. Take a look here for more info. I’m not sure that as a fishing community we’re using this as much as we could/should. The research that comes from fishers out there on the water can greatly aid biologists who can’t use their standard procedures for species and fish counts. As she said, ” I can’t imagine we would use SCUBA gear on this river.” Agreed.

— Ban Luu, who has plied the river since 2007 using traditional tackle, told us he had no idea there were fish in it when he first cast out: He was testing a new rod and reel to get ready for an ocean trip! With each cast, he heard splashing, thudding, all the auditory telltale signs of big fish. “I was hooked,” he said, no pun intended. And Luu is the right guy to get hooked, taking time to keep a detailed fishing journal, perfecting his light tackle gear after much research and trial and error. Also, he has perfected his own masa blend with garlic, after rejecting both bread and tortilla baits, both well regarded by locals.

And … ready for this, Luu said he’s caught over 2,000 fish since 2007! After listening to his presentation, I am sure this isn’t a fish tale.

As for yours truly, I discussed the usual suspects we catch on our river, as well as fly rods and flies that give you the best chance of hooking up. I, too, used old-school photographs from this blog that included fish and the commentators who sent them in to illustrate my talk.Simply put, without the LARFF community, I would have had much less to discuss. Thank you for your support and friendship over the last four years!

Finally, Bowling reminded us that we are all invited to participate in the return to the lower section of the river, Saturday, Jan. 3, from 2 p.m. until dusk. Get in touch with him (wpb@folar.org) to reserve your spot (free), and help to document what fish are in that lower section on WIllow Street.

Who knows, steelhead may yet be waiting for discovery, akin to those spotted on the San Gabriel River. Blankenship shared a wonderful picture from a few years back of a large steelhead hanging out by a discarded TV in a West L.A. flood control channel. It was a renewed call to “bring ’em home,” as FoLAR co-founder Lewis MacAdams would say.

See you on the river. — Jim Burns

No steelhead in L.A. River’s mouth not the whole story

Twenty-five-inch steelhead trout caught in the Los Angeles River near Glendale, in January, 1940. (Courtesy family of Dr. Charles L. Hogue)

Twenty-five-inch steelhead trout caught in the Los Angeles River near Glendale, in January, 1940. (Courtesy family of Dr. Charles L. Hogue)

Every so often, news stories come along that seem to tell the story, but, when enveloped in a larger context, turn out to be a shadow of the actual truth. Reading yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, old school (in paper!), I found environmental writer Louis Sahagun’s “Searching for the elusive steelhead trout,” to be in need of context and rebuttal.

Those newshounds among you know that Vox, formed by some former Washington Post staffers, thrives on its policy of “understanding the news.” Context in this digital age is king.

If I’d never fly-fished or reported on the L.A. River, I would have read Sahagun’s piece and asked “Why would anyone attempt a fish study in this toxic waste water?” and probably had a very good laugh at the photograph of the fool from Trout Unlimited with a sock attached to his line, and snickered at the abandoned shopping cart shot.

But, as it stands, I have a platform to cry foul on this piece. I started lariverflyfishing some four years ago with the tagline “fishing for carp, waiting for steelhead,” and have amassed over 1,000 followers and 46,000-plus hits as of this writing.

For those of you who actually do enjoy recreational fishing in Glendale Narrows, you know this story doesn’t begin to tell the broader context of our river.

And for those of you who participated in the latest clean-up efforts, you know that if Friends of the Los Angeles River, the organization that has organized clean-ups for the past 25 years, had gotten a piece of this area, the junk would have been removed.

FOLAR released “State of the River: The Fish Study” six years ago. This singular Los Angeles River study combed four areas for fish, a Glendale site, Newell site, Figueroa site and a Riverside site. The seine nets captured carp, tilapia and sunfish in significant numbers. Because of this study I realized an LARFF contributor had really caught a legend when he recently captured a largemouth bass, because only one appeared in the study, as compared to nearly 250 tilapia.

The most telling lack of context in the Times piece is not mentioning that this study was funded to complete the work begun in 2008. As the study says:

“These coastal and estuarine species will not be

A steelhead rendered on the Guardians of the River gate. Once these oceangoing trout ran up the river. Time for them to return.

A steelhead rendered on the Guardians of the River gate. Once these oceangoing trout ran up the river. Time for them to return.


discussed further here, but will be present and of
concern when work extends to the lower Los Angeles
River. It is becoming increasingly apparent also that
coastal lagoons in and near the mouths of central
and Southern California rivers are very important to
at least one of the two anadramous species known
to have occurred in the Los Angeles River system,
steelhead trout. Thus, they are also important to their
ability to return, spawn, and establish a population.”

A piece that continues to get hits on LARFF is one I originally wrote for California Fly Fisherman magazine. Although events have moved forward significantly since I penned “Will steelhead ever return to the L.A. River” in 2012, most of it remains sound, including this quote from the river’s noted poet:

“Maybe next time they rechannelize it, they do it to the specifications of the steelhead,” mused Lewis MacAdams. “Have a panel of steelhead, fins up, fins down. Let the steelhead decide the shape of the channel. I’ve always felt that what we were doing was calling things home. You know, ‘it’s OK to come back’. There is something to that.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Earth Quotes: Charles McDermand

The best — and possibly the saddest — way to know what you’ve missed is by delving into the past. It seems almost nihilistic to look too closely, yet we must.

I remember years ago interviewing an old professor in Madrid who transported me back to a time when single, young men drank coffee and women, hot chocolate, both sexes beautifully dressed for the flirtation that naturally followed. As I listened with my tin ear for castilian Spanish, at first I thought how “modern” I was, and how silly, how sexist, it was to confine the sexes to different hot beverages. But as I walked home, a certain nostalgia overcame me to a point that my footsteps eventually just sort of scuffed along the pavement as I wondered at the clothes, the conversations, the intrigue that happened in those early years of the last century.

Can old books and IPads go together? (Jim Burns)

Can old books and IPads go together? (Jim Burns)

That day I became a true believer in remembering what we’ve lost, if for no other reason than to preserve that which deserves preserving today. Sure, this time, right now, remains a special one, full of hope and promise I believe outweigh all of the impending zombie apocalypses. Yet, reading Charles McDemand made me pine for a Sierra now vanished, for he wrote his classic “Waters of the Golden Trout Country” in 1944. McDermand penned his trampings along ranges few will travel, bringing his seven-foot fly rod, seven-and-a-half foot leader and “pack board” to dozens of rivers, streams and lakes. Here’s a sample:

“While ichthyologists have long argued over whether steelhead trout are a separate species or not, I had always considered them to be any rainbow trout which had gone out to sea and returned. Fresh from the plentiful food and the colorless habitat of the sea, they were always silvery, energetic fighters when re-entering fresh water. It had been my belief, and the belief of many a seasoned steelhead fisherman, that any of these trout, if landlocked in fresh water for a few months, would return to their usual brilliant coloration.

Now, at Lake Italy, I found my opinions shattered by the squirming, silvery evidence before me. This was a steelhead; there was no doubt about it in my mind. By no possible chance, short of wings, could it have journeyed from the seas through the miles of cataracts and actual falls descending from the Sierra. Obviously, someone had planted steelhead fry in Lake Italy. They had grown and remained silvery instead of reverting to a rainbow coloration. Accordingly, to me steelhead must be a separate and distinct species, not just any rainbow that has gone out to sea and returned.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Will steelhead ever return to the L.A. River?

Twenty-five-inch steelhead trout caught in the Los Angeles River near Glendale, in January, 1940. (Courtesy family of Dr. Charles L. Hogue)

It may be a ridiculous notion to think the Los Angeles River could ever support a resident steelhead population.  In fact, it may be ridiculous to contemplate that this gritty icon of shoot-‘em-up movies like “To Live and Die in L.A.” will ever shed its miles of concrete, flood-control skin in favor of a sustainable habitat. Yet, talk to the various players in the multi-year, multi-million dollar reconstruction drama and a common theme emerges: steelhead restoration. Whether it’s actually feasible or not, the steelhead has become a symbol of the river’s potential rebirth. In the years to come, whether flapping fins or flummery will triumph, remains to be seen.

Problems abound with a restoration effort of this size, 51 miles through a morass of  cities, from the San Fernando Valley to the port of Long Beach. Those reading these pages outside of Los Angeles must wonder if steelhead ever swam in the river to begin with.  The answer, which is ironic even to those of us locals who regularly ply the water for carp, is “yes.”

“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.

Although anecdotes (and the iconic picture above) point to the last steelhead being pulled from the Los Angeles River in 1940, activist and poet Lewis MacAdams, one of the three founders of FOLAR, has kept that mythology alive.  The river mantra is his: “When the steelhead return, we’ll know our job is done.”

In 1995, political restoration activities began with the county, which led to the City Council’s approval of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan in May, 2007, created with $3 million from the Department of Water and Power’s deep coffers. The plan contains many items – revitalizing the river, greening adjacent neighborhoods and creating value through economic opportunities – and includes more than a dozen references to steelhead. Key among them are “… ideally, developing fish passages, fish ladders, and riffle pools to allow for restoration of steelhead trout habitat.”

“It was a recognition by the design team and the city that fish habitat would be good and to strive for it as a goal,” said Ira Artz, the project manager at Tetra Tech, the environmental engineering and consulting firm responsible for the plan. According to the plan, “the long-term vision for the river involves restoring a continuous, functioning riparian ecosystem along the river corridor.” Improvements should include:

— Decreasing water temperature through shade

— Improving water quality

— Creating an unimpeded path from the ocean to the headwaters, along with areas to rest and to spawn

— Inducing a natural flow regime of high and low-flows

Two of the four have improved incrementally as of this writing, water quality and pathways.

Steelhead aside, getting any project shovel ready faces a myriad of political hurdles. According to city documents, the river flows through seven U.S. Congressional districts, 10 city council districts, approximately 20 neighborhood councils and 12 community plan areas. On top of that with about 10 million people, L.A. is the nation’s second largest urban region, and Long Beach down the road is one of the world’s busiest ports. It also happens to be where the river exits to the ocean.

Yet, there are the beginnings of a solution if you look north to one of the L.A. River’s main tributaries, the Arroyo Seco. If fact, the founding of the city in 1781 took place at the confluence of these two bodies of water. As part of the restoration plan, Confluence Plaza was inaugurated in the shadow of the I-5 freeway earlier this year.

“Historically,” Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, an environmental group, said in his offices at the River Center, “the Arroyo Seco had a really rich trout culture, including steelhead. And there are lots of historical references to steelhead on the Arroyo Seco and, really, in the L.A. river system. Brick is a “money where your mouth is” kind of guy, who recently with the help of CDM corporation and a $2 million grant from the state’s Water Resources Control Board, spearheaded the return of 300 minnowlike native Arroyo Chub to a newly restored native habitat. “We view the re-establishment of the Arroyo Chub as the first step toward the re-establishment of steelhead in the L.A. River.”

Wendy Katagi, CDM’s environmental planner, who worked with Brick on the restoration project, naturally agreed. “We should focus on doing steelhead recovery in the upper watershed. They miraculously hang on, these populations. The best thing we can do is create and mimic natural stream morphology elements through whatever is needed. Then the likelihood of species recovery goes way up.”

Moreover, Gordon Becker, a senior scientist with the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration, based in Oakland, Calif., spent months – if not years – analyzing Department of Fish and Game stocking records, field notes and surveys from the 1920s into this century for all of Los Angeles County. His study, published in 2008, speaks to the small number of fish currently present.

A steelhead rendered on the Guardians of the River gate. Once these oceangoing trout ran up the river. Time for them to return.

Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to provide an estimate for the number of steelhead in streams of L.A. County, according to Becker. The surveys he reviewed were not population estimates, which is what one would need to say anything at all about abundance.

“Essentially,” he continued in an e-mail, “steelhead in the county are opportunistic at this point. In some years, successful spawning may occur in Malibu Creek, or Arroyo Sequit, or Zume Canyon Creek, or Topanga Creek, but we can’t describe the situation as a steelhead ‘run’ of any particular size. It is my opinion that supplementation will need to be pursued if we are to have a real run in a SoCal stream in the future.”

Today, the city’s point person for the massive river project is Carol Armstrong. After serving in the Peace Corps in Thailand and witnessing firsthand the toll Asian development took on the environment, she enrolled in the University of Southern California’s Sustainable Cities program and received her PhD.

She coined “riverly,” which you’ll hear at most meetings about the subject. She explained another of her creations, Steelhead Fred, while standing next to the bike lane overlooking the river at three-acre Marsh Park, which is a “detention park,” meaning it’s designed to partially fill with water during heavy rain. As she looked across the river toward the San Gabriel Mountains, sporadic afternoon two-wheel traffic filled this newly opened stretch of the bike path, another sign of the river’s rebirth and its increasing connection to the community.

“Environmentalists say ‘we will not have accomplished L.A. river revitalization until the steelhead trout returns,’ so we came up with Steelhead Fred, the steelhead trout, and we ask developers and project proponents, all of them, is it riverly?”

Currently, consensus is that the most riverly project to finish is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers L.A. River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study that began in 2006 with the city as the local partner. It looks at the 10-mile stretch of soft bottom that stretches from Glendale Narrows, plus Headworks Reservoir in Burbank, through downtown to First Street. This area, part of which is across from Griffith Park, is the most popular with fly fishers looking to hook carp. Besides having a soft bottom – as opposed to concrete – it contains what the Corps calls “ecological value” and has the most water in it year around.

The Corps controls the concrete. So without the study, which would then possibly lead to an actual project, okayed by Congress, no concrete will be exchanged for terracing or plantings, or improving fish passage. It will remain what it was constructed to be – a flood conveyance channel with the aim of getting high-flow water from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Currently, completing the feasibility study will cost $2.6 million, according to Armstrong, and it’s nowhere to be found in President Obama’s 2012 budget, even though it’s a No. 1 priority of the Urban Waters Partnership Program. Recently, Councilperson Ed Reyes, the river’s chief and most dogged proponent, was in Washington asking President Obama to fund the study.

Josephine Axt, the Army Corps planning division chief, is a civilian, a PhD. biologist and rides her bike to work, changing into appropriately conservative work attire, picked from a closet inside her office. “There’s a lot of functionality that we can restore that then might create conditions that would be conducive to fish,” but she stresses that the goals and objectives for the long-awaited study were established some years ago and they’re not to bring back fish.

“To me, if steelhead come back or not, it’s not the measure that I hope the restoration study is measured by. To me, it’s much more about habitat in general.”

Paradoxically, of the 240 potential river projects, not one deals specifically with steelhead restoration.

“We know steelhead won’t be back tomorrow,” continued Armstrong, “but each and every thing we do should build to a place where it’s possible. And by looking at it now, it’s not absurd, but there’s a reason that we do what we do. It’s respecting life, bringing life back … .”

And nature’s clock continues to tick – albeit slowly. About a quarter-mile up from the Figueroa Street Bridge, lie slabs of concrete that the river has started to reclaim. The water’s going underneath the channel there and taking out the concrete. Eventually the river will have to be rechannelized, one way or the other.

“Maybe next time they rechannelize it, they do it to the specifications of the steelhead,” mused Lewis MacAdams. “Have a panel of steelhead, fins up, fins down. Let the steelhead decide the shape of the channel. I’ve always felt that what we were doing was calling things home. You know, ‘it’s OK to come back’. There is something to that.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns