FoLAR Works with RWQCB and Others to Stop Bulldozing in the Lower River
In February 2015, FoLAR and Heal the Bay provided public comment at a Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting (RWQCB) which resulted in a change of policy. For years, the Los Angeles County Flood Control District (LACFCD) was bulldozing vegetation in soft-bottom reaches of the LA River and other watersheds, causing severe impacts to the local ecology. We presented this case, and the RWQCB was shocked that LACFCD continued to bulldoze vegetation and wanted to see the maintenance practices change be more cognizant of the impacted habitat. The result was the term-length of the Waste Discharge Requirements (WDR) permit, which allows LACFCD to bulldoze in these reaches, being shortened from 5-years down to 1-year with the intention of RWQCB staff to come back with an improved WDR permit that required more progressive vegetation maintenance practices.
In order to generate an improved WDR, a WDR Working Group was established, where FoLAR has been working together with LACFCD, RWQCB Staff, US Army Corps of Engineers, Cal Fish and Wildlife, and most importantly, other environmental non-profits, including Heal the Bay, Arroyo Seco Foundation, and SCOPE. The Working Group has been meeting monthly for the past year with the goal of improving the way LACFCD maintains vegetation so that habitat is less impacted.
Rather than the typical conflict and debate that might come about concerning issues of habitat protection, this working group has been a space for collaboration, cooperation, and progress. Due to our work this past year, LACFCD tried out a pilot project in the Long Beach Estuary and Compton Creek where, rather than bulldozing, they trimmed vegetation with mowers.
This was a huge success, as the habitat was much less impacted; and with vegetation still remaining in the channel, we saw much more wildlife in the river than we did last year at this time: 3 ospreys and 2 hawks patrolling the skies, great blue herons, snowy egrets, and countless ducks & coots. These new maintenance practices were a great success because not only was the habitat much less disturbed, but the maintenance was completed in just one week compared to the 3 week average of previous years.
Because of our efforts in leading the Working Group in a positive direction, the RWQCB decided to continue the trend of a shorter permit term to work on the WDR more. We discovered that a 1-year time frame was not long enough to make the amount of change we need, so last Thursday, February 11, 2016, the RWQCB approved a new WDR permit with a new term length of 2 years and 5 months. According to this new WDR, LACFCD will be required to conduct at least 2 new pilot projects each year, trying out new vegetation maintenance in different reaches. These pilots will be evaluated by criteria including ecological impact, water quality impact, and economic cost. The goal is to investigate new maintenance strategies that will have a more positive effect on beneficial uses, such as habitat. We will push the County to try out more imaginative strategies to show that we truly can have both habitat protection and flood control safety in our Rivers and streams.
We thank the RWQCB for establishing this Working Group so that non-profits like ourselves have a voice in the decision making process, rather than simply commenting on issues that have already been decided. Nothing like this has been done before with the RWQCB, and it is a great sign of the time we live in, where collaboration, cooperation, and a transparent process truly do lead to progress.
If you want to view the new WDR permit which was just passed and our comment letter, Click Here.