Why a judge isn't keen on a plan to divert water from Arroyo Seco to your tap
|<b>July 18, 2017</b> - The Arroyo Seco Canyon Project has received a big setback. Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin ruled that the environmental document for the project did not adequately evaluate the impact of Pasadena's water diversions on critical downstream habitat. Some aspects of the program will go on, but a full environmental impact report will be required for anything related to increasing local water supplies.<b></b> -|
|Jason Henry - San Gabriel Valley Tribune|
A bicyclist crosses the stream to continue on the trail on the Arroyo Seco Tuesday, July 18, 2010.
Environmental activists have stalled Pasadena’s plans to divert more water from the Arroyo Seco to spreading basins near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory after a Superior Court judge agreed the proposal could threaten downstream habitats where protected turtles and birds might live.
By using more runoff to refill the Raymond Basin, Pasadena Water and Power could increase the local supply of drinking water and decrease the percentage purchased at a higher cost from the Metropolitan Water District.
But the diversion of up to 358 million gallons of water per year could also devastate downstream habitats by blocking water flows to those areas for up to 10 months out of the year, according to a court ruling handed down last month.
“This project would have taken the water away from all of that,” said Leeona Klippstein, co-founder of the Spirit of the Sage Council, a nonprofit coalition of environmental organizations. “This has gone on for three years, but we’ve been trying for 20 years to keep the area as wild as possible.”
Spirit of the Sage Council sued the city, claiming it violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not properly studying the effects expansion of a diversionary dam would have on habitats below.
In considering the project, the city did not complete a full environmental impact report, instead opting for a less detailed document, called a “mitigated negative declaration,” a study which says there won’t be any significant impacts that can’t be handled.
City staff promised to keep an eye on the area for years after completing the project, but a Los Angeles Superior Court judge decided that would not go far enough to protect wildlife.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin determined the city should have completed a more detailed environmental examination before moving forward. Fruin noted the area affected is “abundant in native plants and wildlife,” including the southwestern pond turtle, the least Bell’s vireo and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, all species of concern, which means they could become threatened.
“The project may create a physical divide of the Arroyo Seco … with the upper reaches retaining their historic environmental habitat fostered by a natural water flow and the lower areas having an impacted habitat because of the greater diversion caused by the project,” Fruin wrote in a statement about his decision.
The judge invalidated approvals for the project from 2015, stalling work for months at the minimum and potentially killing it outright if the City Council decides not to do a more thorough environmental impact report.
Fruin’s decision won’t affect other portions of the project, such as plans to restore a portion of JPL’s eastern parking lot to a natural state and improve parking amenities at the nearby Millard Canyon.
Pasadena spokesman William Boyer said a public hearing has been tentatively scheduled for the July 24 City Council meeting to give residents and the council a chance to discuss the court’s decision.
City staffers are recommending that the council rescind approvals related to the diversion of runoff, per the court’s judgment, and then vote to move forward with the allowable portions of the project, Boyer said.
- Jason Henry
Jason Henry covers Local Governments and Education Reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonMHenry.
Arroyo Seco Foundation, PO Box 91622, Pasadena, CA 91109-1622 (323) 405-7326 email@example.com