Devil's Gate Reservoir "Big Dig" Sediment Removal Public Meetings Start, Activists Want Answers
|July 12, 2016 - Brandon Villalovos of Pasadena Now reports on the news conference held by Pasadena Audubon on Devil's Gate Dam on July 8th. #NoBigDig|
Last week, on July 8, representatives of the Pasadena Audubon Society held a press conference to discuss their claim that Flood Control officials have filed a California Incident Take Permit that would allow the Country to kill endangered species such as the Least Bell’s Vireo and the Southwest Willow Flycatcher, two birds which are key indicators of habitat quality.
The large scale sediment removal plan for the Devil’s Gate Reservoir Basin proposed by the L.A. County Flood Control District has activists critical of the county’s reasoning behind excavating a planned 2.4 million cubic yards of natural habitat for flood management purposes.
Activists from the Arroyo Seco Foundation and the Pasadena Audubon Society, who filed a lawsuit against the Flood Control District in 2014 which is still in court, held a press conference last week before the first of a series of County public meetings was set to begin Wednesday night.
“We wanted to get the word out to our supporters about three big issues,” said Pasadena Audubon Society Conservation Chair Laura Garrett.
“One is that the County has applied for an incidental take permit on the Least Bell’s Vireo, a federally protected an endangered bird. Secondly, we now don’t understand why they need to take out 2.4 million cubic yards of dirt when before 1.67 million cubic yards of dirt was fine,” Garrett said. “And last, we now suspect that this project is only step one of the county’s much bigger project which is to run a five mile water pipe from Hahamongna to Eaton Canyon.”
The lawsuit filed in 2014 is challenging the project after it was approved in November that year by the county’s Board of Supervisors.
The group said the sediment haul project would destroy part of a biologically valuable stream habitat in the process of bringing sediment levels way lower than the Hahamongna Basin historically held since the 1930s.
“This is rich, biodiverse habitat and its regionally important because it’s so huge. We want to protect it,” said Garrett.
According to Garrett, the County’s plan would allow for approximately 400 excavation trucks entering and leaving the site each day, which could prove to be not only a neighborhood nuisance, but also an environmental concern for a duration that could span anywhere from three to five years.
L.A. County Public Works Public Affairs Manager Kerjon Lee clarified that the County’s plan estimates up to 400 truck trips per day, not 400 different trucks per day, and that a single truck going into the site and then leaving later counts as two trips.
The Department of Public Works said in a 2014 Devil’s Gate Dam summary report that the currently limited capacity of the reservoir that has accumulated large amounts of sediment in recent years can clog critical drainage valves and become subject to substantial flooding in the event of a 50-year storm.
Flooding would occur along the portions of the Arroyo Seco in the Cities of Pasadena, South Pasadena, and Los Angeles, impacting approximately 650 parcels and requiring closure of the 110 Freeway from Orange Grove Avenue to the 5 Freeway.
“We’re not absolutely opposed to having sediment removed here. We just think they are trying to remove twice as much as they need to,” said Managing Director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation Tim Brick.
Brick and his colleagues feel that while the removal is necessary to an extent, environmental impact can be greatly reduced if the county made plans to be less aggressive with the excavation processes.
“We want them instead to undertake an ongoing program where they set a level of sediment in the basin that’s safe and then they maintain it when necessary over a longer length of time.”
Mitigation efforts are being met, according to the Department of Public Works.
“The 2.4 million cubic yards is a significant decrease from what was originally proposed,” said Lee who specified that original plans outlined the removal of 4 million cubic yards.
The concerns from the activists don’t stop there.
“The County, in requesting authorization to “take” Least Bell’s Vireos, admits that the Big Dig program will remove habitat where the Least Bell’s Vireo has been observed by Audubon Society members and that the sediment removal activities will likely kill nesting Least Bell’s Vireo, but they ignored this in their Environmental Impact Report for the project,” according to Garrett in a July 8 press release from the Pasadena Audubon Society.
Since the Least Bell’s Vieros are a federally recognized endangered species, the county is required under federal law to file for an Incidental Take Permit with the California Fish and Wildlife Department.
The permit is issued under Section 10 of the United States Endangered Species Act to private, non-federal entities undertaking otherwise lawful projects that might result in the take, removal or killing, of an endangered or threatened species.
“We’ll have our biologist presenting at one of the meetings and there will be a significant amount of information not just on the ways in which we’ll protect the Least Bell’s Verios and increase habitat for that endangered species of bird, but also on the other proposed enhancements to habitat within the reservoir,” said Lee.
Furthermore, concerns of the Big Dig being a part of a bigger issue of L.A. County Flood Control District’s plan to improve capacity of Devil’s Gate Dam by building a 5 mile long pipeline to Eaton Canyon are leaving activists skeptical of the county’s intentions.
“This now looks like it is not a project in and of itself. It’s connected to a much larger project,” said Garrett.
The County has not provided definite plans in regards to the projects being directly related, but Lee recognizes that all of these facilities and various areas are indeed related from an operational standpoint.
“The two projects are obviously related in that they are both projects that manage stormwater as a resource, there are some elements of the Devil’s Gate project that would form connectivity with the Eaton Canyon project,” said Lee.
The Flood District will be holding public meetings regarding the project on: Wednesday, July 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Jackson Elementary School located at 593 W Woodbury Rd, Altadena,; Thursday, July 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Rose Bowl Stadium Visitors Locker Room located at 1001 Rose Bowl Dr, Pasadena; and on Saturday, July 16th at 2:00 p.m at La Cañada Flintridge Community Center located at 4469 Chevy Chase Dr, La Cañada Flintridge.
For more information, visit www.lasedimentmanagement.com/devilsgate, or send an email firstname.lastname@example.org.