Day and Night

EPA chief Lisa Jackson tests water in Compton Creek.

Wednesday was a rewarding whirlwind: An extraordinary afternoon in the Compton Creek, a stimulating evening roundtable at the Skirball, and an after-hours meal in Venice. 

A few weeks ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency reached out to Heal the Bay to let us know that chief Lisa Jackson would be visiting the L.A. area and that she wanted to visit Compton Creek.

Heal the Bay contacted Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to set up a tour for Jackson at Compton Creek. The agreed-upon plan was to announce the long-anticipated purchase of the four-acre soft-bottomed section of Compton Creek and a request to Jackson for federal assistance to develop a flood-control improvement plan based on a low-impact development approach rather than raising the walls on the river.

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Nerd Alert!

Water Effects Ratios in L.A. River are no joke.

Warning!  Sometimes I’m prone to write in nerd-speak about the confusing labyrinth of water quality regulations that weaken water quality protection. With apologies to the reader, this is one of those times.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Board approved Thursday yet another Water Effects Ratio (WER) for a polluted water body. A WER is a pseudo-scientific modeling exercise to determine how much of a pollutant is bioavailable to kill or poison aquatic life.

The only time anyone ever does a WER study is to get out of complying with water quality standards to protect human health and aquatic life. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever done a WER study that has resulted in tougher water quality standards. So in essence WER really stands for Water Effluent limit Reductions.

Because the Regional Water Board has become WERS ‘R’ Us, Heal the Bay has begged the board to develop some semblance of a policy or guidance to bring strong science to the WER development process.

Once again, the board pointedly refused our pleas and granted a WER/effluent reduction by a factor of nearly 4 for copper discharges to the Los Angeles River from Burbank and L.A. sewage treatment plants.

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Nature Control

The L.A. "flood control channel" River.

Last Thursday, the Regional Water Board voted to approve a Waste Discharge Requirement (WDR) for the Los Angeles County Nature Control District’s “channel maintenance” activity. After all, to the County, our LA, Santa Clara and San Gabriel Rivers are flood control channels, not living ecosystems and habitats.

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Memo to Antonio … continued

It's time to treat L.A.'s rivers as habitat rather than flood control channels. Photo:

Yesterday,  I outlined  my top three green initiatives that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should tackle in the remainder of his second term. Here’s a look at some other environmental issues that he should make a priority:

Fast-track city approval of a Stream Protection Ordinance in 2010. The Department of Public Works has spent three and a half years working on a stream protection ordinance.  Based on Watershed Protection Division analysis, there are approximately 462 miles of riparian habitat that would receive some level of protection under the draft ordinance.  Council districts 11 (Rosendahl), 2 (Krekorian), and 12 (Smith) all have over 60 miles of habitat, while 11 out of 15 districts have at least 12 miles of habitat.  The ordinance would protect the city’s remaining stream habitat by requiring development buffer zones of 100 feet for soft-bottomed habitat and 30 feet for concrete-lined channels. We need to start treating streams like habitat rather than flood control channels. Unfortunately, the ordinance has been frozen in the mayor’s office for over two years. If the mayor says he wants to protect L.A.’s streams, the ordinance would likely sail through City Council.  Unfortunately, the ordinance is not on the mayor’s radar.

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Some Early Presents …

Chanukah came early for L.A. coastal waters

Just in time for Chanukah, or a little early for Christmas … It may not have been a MacBook Air, a PS3, or even the latest iPhone, but Southern California’s coastal waters this week received some regulatory presents significantly better than a pack of Zhu Zhu Pets.

The city of Los Angeles’ decision on the Low Impact Development ordinance may have been postponed (a cliché at this point), but the state Fish and Game commission and the Regional Water Board made a couple of enormous decisions this week.

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Many Rivers to Cross …

The Los Angeles "Engineered Earth-bottom Flood Control Channel." Photo: L.A. Times

The Los Angeles "Engineered Earth-bottom Flood Control Channel." Photo: L.A. Times

Does Los Angeles County really have rivers?

Based on Thursday’s debacle of a Regional Water Board hearing, I’m not sure its staff believe that there is an L.A. River, Compton Creek, Santa Clara River, or San Gabriel River. Flood control channels, yes. Living, breathing rivers, no.

The item before the Board was Los Angeles County’s  Section 401 certification application on the “Maintenance Clearing of Engineered Earth Bottom Flood Control Channels” for about 100 water body segments.  (The application falls under a Clean Water Act section regarding dredging and filling of waters of the United States).

Unfortunately, the hearing on the item was cancelled due to a major faux pas by Board staff.  They inadvertently provided a pocket approval of the county’s application by not rendering a decision within one year of its submission. The county’s application was submitted and deemed complete for review by Board staff last August.

The end result? The county’s flawed five-year 401 certification is bound for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval with no changes and there’s nothing we can do about it. Continue reading

Gateway Garbage

Will federal stimulus funds end lawsuits over cleaning L.A. Riverr?

Will stimulus funds end lawsuits over cleaning L.A. River?

Great news from last week.  The Obama administration awarded $10 million in stimulus funds to prevent trash from getting in to the Los Angeles River and San Pedro Bay.  The shocking pictures of Long Beach after a rain often show a few feet of trash piled along the shore.  The L.A. River is so polluted that it ranks on California’s list of impaired waters.  The Regional Water Board even approved river specific water quality standards that require zero trash getting in the river by 2014.  The so-called Total Maximum Daily Load limit is one of the most far reaching environmental regulations in the country.

With the $10 million, the Los Angeles Gateway Region Integrated Regional Water Management Authority (I don’t make up these names) will design and install trash-capture devices to comply with these regulations in the cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Compton, Cudahy, Downey, Huntington Park, Long Beach, Lynwood, Maywood, Montebello, Paramount, Pico Rivera, Signal Hill, South Gate and Vernon.

As required under the trash regulation, the full capture devices are designed to prevent 100% of the trash greater than five millimeters in diameter from reaching the L.A.River after a three-quarter inch storm.  The L.A. Gateway Authority claimed that the stimulus funds will prevent garbage from trashing the river and the bay, and the funds will create over 100 jobs over the next two years.  All great stuff.  Congratulations.

So why don’t I feel all warm and happy inside?

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