Earlier this year I wrote about the crime that was committed when the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works bulldozed a priceless oak woodland in Arcadia to create a dumping ground for river sediment that had built up in the reservoirs. A couple of weeks ago I received a notice from the Theodore Payne Foundation alerting me they were about to do it again to another pristine habitat, La Tuna Canyon!
This time around, I decided, I would not sit passively by and let it happen again without putting up more of a fight. So I decided to go the hearing at the DPW to learn more and find out how we could come to a different conclusion. And I have to say, it was a great lesson on so many levels.
First off, I realized it is nearly as negligent to simply pick up the picket sign and protest without taking the time to more fully understand the situation. It is not enough to simply say ‘no.’ The problem is very real: After the Station Fire millions of cubic feet of sediment washed off the burned hills and flowed into the reservoirs. The muck clogs up valves that release the water, the build up of sediment prevents infiltration into the aquifers, and the increase in sediment limits the amount of water that the reservoirs can contain.
Back in the day, various debris basins had been purchased by the County specifically to be used to dump the sediment as it built up. But we are now decades later, and our environment more and more degraded, and we cannot continue using the existing solutions.
So this meeting was about looking beyond just the single project and instead developing a long term sediment management plan. The hearing was about laying out the framework for developing the plan, and asking for public input. They provided several presentations from DPW, Fish and Game, and Water Resources. Then they asked the audience to review the factors being considered in selecting the debris basins: technical feasibility, cost, environment & social factors.
And I kept thinking about some of the things I learned in a permaculture class last year: ‘The problem is the solution.’ Or,’ it is so much easier to mitigate a problem when it is small rather than when it is barreling down on you at 100 miles an hour!’ So I think we need to look at a bigger question: Is ‘dumping’ the sediment the solution at all? Perhaps we need to consider a different paradigm all together? Those mountains will be there for thousands of years, and the hills will continue to burn and the rain will continue fall. So the solutions we develop need to be integrated and sustainable.
The next step in developing the plan is to form a task force comprised of various stakeholders both engineers and environmentalists (though some were surprised that no members of Sierra Club or the Native Plant Society had been invited to join). Scoping meetings will also be held along the way to allow for public input as the plan evolves, and at least one EIR is in the works for one of the reservoirs.
There is no magic solution to this problem, but I have to believe that we are all looking for a solution that works: one that solves the problem without having to sacrifice pristine woodlands and habitat to do it.
And I want to believe that the Department of Public Works is acting in good faith. That they realize that plowing under that oak grove in Arcadia was an atrocious error. One that cannot be repeated.
But even as I want to believe, I also realize that we often take the path of least resistance. Would the DPW have sought any other solution if it hadn’t been for those citizens who spoke out and said ‘we won’t let that happen again?’ Those hundred or so folks there yesterday, representing hundreds more that are not going to sit idly by and let it happen again?
And so, we, as citizens, speaking not just for ourselves but for the voices of those who have none; we must step up and make sure that DPW doesn’t just slip one by again because we weren’t paying attention. By not taking action, we are in fact giving our permission to proceed.
The following link takes you to some beautiful photos of what it is we are seeking to protect.