On Monday, January 31st I attended the LA County Department of Public Works (DPW) Sediment Management Strategic Plan, Task Force Meeting. Quite a mouthful! Held at 2 PM on a Monday, they clearly were not concerned about the fact that many people have day jobs. Still I went with the hope that something good could come out of all the bad we experienced with the destruction of the Arcadia Oak/Sycamore Woodland.
Right away I learned what the Task Force was not going to do. It was not going to be an opportunity to:
- Address what happened in Arcadia,
- Effect change on “short-term” projects including sediment removal from the following dams and sediment placement sites: Devil’s Gate, Big Tujunga, Cogswell, Pacoima, Morris Reservoirs and La Tuna SPS,
- Explore long-term solutions for the problems of our current water management practices and an aging and inadequate infrastructure,
- Address problems with the process that led to Arcadia and will allow the continued destruction of land regardless of public opinion, environmental laws and regulations, or anything else.
We were tasked with the job of brainstorming about how to:
“Manage sediment in order to provide for the flood protection and water conservation needs of region while balancing environmental, social, and economic impacts.”
We were asked to think “outside the box” regarding three very narrowly defined problems:
- Sediment transport
- Uses for sediment
- Disposal sites for unusable sediment
Clearly, these very specific questions are better left to professionals including environmentalists, biologists, community activists, as well as engineers. The events of the past few months illustrated that the process for determining how to manage these dams failed but we were not asked to discuss that, though some people did bring it up.
The issue remains the same. Once sediment from the dams has been dumped on the parcels of land that DPW bought over 60 years ago for this purpose, the problem is still there.
Which begs the question: Why hasn’t DPW come up with any new solutions in 60 years? In particular, the purchase of these parcels 60 years ago for use as sediment dump sites did not take into account the enormous development that has occurred and the resulting critical need of the land for recreation and habitat.
We were told that DPW will be using an “in house” consultant to help figure out how to balance environmental costs (long-term, like forever, and short-term, as in trucks for 18 months), the loss of habitat and recreational land, and cost with their goals of flood control and water recharge for the region’s growing water needs. It is not clear that environmentalists or community groups will be heard.
DPW did not bring up how or whether they have been following the letter and intent of environmental rules and regulations and what they might do differently in the future. As such, I can only assume that they felt they did everything right in Arcadia. If this is the case then the meeting was not something I needed to attend. Without acknowledging the mistakes made, there is no way forward.
This meeting was not intended to address either short-term or long-term issues related to an aging infrastructure for flood control and water recharge. Rather, we were asked for input on an intractable problem that will be presumably be solved using out-dated thinking. The only solution – albeit temporary – given cost, air quality, noise, etc., will be dumping on remnant woodlands and coastal sage scrub.
Even if this approach were constructive in some way that I cannot see, the details of DPW’s handling of sediment disposal are still unclear. When discussing alternative uses for the sediment to reduce the need for dumping, I asked whether DPW employed some of those discussed, such as landfill cover, construction material, fill for pits, etc. We were assured that they did. When I pressed for information on where I could get details on exactly how much is used and where it is used I was told I would be able to get this information. It is not clear whether it is currently published in reports but we need details to determine whether DPW is even doing the little bit it could to reduce this problem.
My impression about this meeting and the formation of the Task Force is that DPW wished they never had to have it at all, but it will be a success for them if the public learns that their destruction of habitat and recreational land is necessary given the cost of doing anything else. This is the short-term, narrow thinking that we must fight.