April 16, 2012
The potential for climate change to drastically alter the weather is by no means a new topic. We often hear of the potential for the formation of more severe hurricanes, widespread drought in some areas and widespread flooding in others. However, one type of event which often serves as a footnote to this discussion is the potential for climate change to drastically increase the incidence and severity of extreme heat events (EVEs), more commonly known as heat waves. Already, heat waves account for more deaths in the United States than any other weather phenomena. In fact, heat waves account for more deaths annually than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined (CDC). Despite this fact, heat waves are commonly overlooked as a major threat to a population – they kill silently and leave little or no physical destruction in their wake, leaving few lasting reminders of the danger that exist (Luper et al, 2008). Aside from the impact in human lives, extreme heat events put severe stress on healthcare services and energy supply and distribution networks, which can, in severe cases, result in major social and economic problems. With experts predicting more intense and frequent heat waves in the future, increased awareness and preparation will be crucial to mitigating the dangers associated with these extreme heat events.
While the nature of conditions which characterize a heat waves differs between organizations, the World Meteorological Organization recommends as a definition a situation where the daily maximum temperature of more than five consecutive days exceeds the average temperature by 5oC (9oF). Of particular note in this definition is the reference to five consecutive days of high temperature. This temporal element is what separates a heat wave from a situation when you may have one or two days of extremely hot weather – and this extended period of heat exposure is also what makes heat waves so dangerous.
Although local conditions (i.e. warm winds like the Santa Ana winds) can cause localized heat events and even regional heat waves, large scale heat waves like the one which struck Europe in 2003, killing over 70,000 people (wiki), are caused by a specific situation. The majority of heat waves occur when a high pressure air mass remains over a region for several days or even months. This high pressure sinks, warming as it does so, and also acts essentially as a ‘cap’ – trapping heat and stagnant air close to the ground and preventing warm air from rising (National Weather Service). The high pressure zone also limits convection, preventing convective clouds from forming and minimizing the chances for rainfall. This effect is particularly noticeable in cities, which are often significantly warmer than the surrounding area due to the urban heat island effect (largely caused by widespread use of heat-retaining materials). The extra heat generated by cities exacerbates the build-up of heat due to the atmospheric conditions, and can result in extremely high sustained temperatures and significant risk to the population (Luber et al. 2008).
From a physiological standpoint, heat waves and related sustained heat exposure can have a variety of effects, ranging in severity. Heat cramps, fainting, dizziness and heat exhaustion are common in heat wave scenarios and if steps are not taken to mitigate these effects, they can progress to nausea, cardiovascular problems and ultimately hyperthermia, also known as heat stroke (Luber et al. 2008). Heat stroke is an extremely dangerous condition which occurs when core body temperature reaches or exceeds 40.6oC (105oF). In this condition, the body looses the ability to regulate its temperature and severe central nervous system problems such as delirium, convulsions and coma may occur, and if steps are not made to immediately cool the victim, death will result. Naturally, individuals who have compromised ability to regulate body temperature due to old age, chronic diseases, or use of certain medications as well as individuals with cardiovascular problems are at extreme risk during these extreme heat events (Luber et al. 2008).
While heat waves themselves and the aforementioned risks are not new phenomena, there is a consensus in the scientific community that the temperature shift caused by climate change will result in much more frequent extreme temperature events, and also much more intense events (CDC, Luber et al. 2008, Huang et al. 2011). Using Los Angeles as an example, Hayhoe et al. (2004) predicts that heat waves and other extreme events will occur with a frequency four times greater than the current level (roughly 12 days annually) by 2100 using the more conservative B1 emissions scenario, and with a frequency up to 8 times greater than the current level using the more pessimistic A1fi emissions scenario. These predictions are consistent with predictions of increase extreme heat events and related mortality in other regions of the United States and the world. For example, Huang et al. (2011) predicts an increase of heat-related fatalities to increase from the current rate of roughly 700 people annually by 70-100% by the middle of the century, while Takahashi eta l. predicts that globally, deaths due to heat exposure may increase anywhere from 100-1000% of the current rate by the end of this century. Clearly, warmer, more frequent heat waves will have significant impact on human lives and society in this century and beyond.
One very important sector that will be impacted by more extreme heat events is the healthcare sector. The serious health effects of heat exposure are discussed above, and dramatic events like the 2003 European heat wave serve as testament to the dangers posed by the events, yet the fact remains that many cities, including those in the U.S. are simply not prepared to deal with the health impacts of a prolonged heat wave (Luber et al.). While the number of fatalities for severe events may be significant, the fact is that the total amount of people requiring medical attention due to heat exposure may be enormous. Public health and emergency services would likely be overwhelmed, which could result in further fatalities and problems. Climate change makes this scenario more likely to occur, while at the same time, demographic shifts in the developing world towards an aging population increases the percentage of the population at significant risk. Ultimately, steps must be taken by public health and emergency response officials to revise current response plans and develop new methods of dealing with, and making the public more aware of the dangers associated with future intense heat wave events.
In addition to the direct on health and health services that can result from extreme heat, there are heat related illnesses and deaths that will increase with the rising temperatures. Climate change will cause human health problems related to dirtier air and water, more flood-related accidents and injuries, threats to food supplies, stress on native and domesticated ecosystems that either purify our air and water or provide food.
There may be an increase in infectious diseases due to less availability of clean water and sanitary conditions for medicine and standard living. This is much more of a concern in parts of the world other than the United States where public health systems are not as structured and available. Even in the US, there will be a stress on public health facilities in areas that are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat conditions. In areas of the southern United States there are high levels of humidity coupled with extreme temperatures that put these people at risk. Also, in areas prone to flooding will be increased indirect health problems that will be exacerbated by the increased temperatures and more erratic weather patterns. These indirect health risks can be mitigated by preventative measures against climate warming, which will surely be less costly than trying to fix the problems after they’ve happened.
Agriculture is another sector of society that will be greatly affected by climate warming and weather extremes. Farming productivity depends on steady climate with steady characteristics such as temperature, rainfall, levels of carbon dioxide, and ground level ozone. These levels have already been changed by human activity and with increased climate and more erratic weather; they will continue to become more intense and potentially harmful. In addition to the heat affecting the farmers, the climate will affect water supply and soil moisture, which in certain areas can have a ripple effect on wastewater run-off and sewage treatment—both of which can become significant health risks.
In developed countries such as the US, the most common method for coping with extreme heat comes in the form of electric Air Conditioning. This is not a technology wide spread in less developed countries, so is generally limited to developed countries as a widespread method for dealing with heat related health risks. The increase of climate variability and more extreme heat waves will come with an increase of the use of air conditioning, which will put some stress on the energy sector. With rising energy costs, there will be some incentive to avoid the preventative measure. Just like when rising gas prices force drivers off the street, some people may choose not to use air conditioning if it becomes more costly. This could put people at risk especially in particularly vulnerable areas.
While there is definitely a continuing pattern of increased temperature and more erratic weather patterns, there is also a decreasing vulnerability to heat and heat related risks. These risks are certainly more of an issue in poorer countries, but will become more of an issue in the US as the climate intensifies. There will be a balance between energy conservation and other preventative measures to prevent further man-induced climate change with how we choose to deal with the risks that are already present and will worsen with climate change.
This post was written by Daniel Sugar ’12 who is majoring in Environmental Studies and Nick Horsburgh ’12 a double major in Environmental Studies and Psychology.
Takahashi K, Honda Y, Emori S. Assessing mortality risk from heat stress due to global warming. J Risk Res. 2007;10(3):339–354.
Luber G., McGeehin M. (2008)Climate Change and Extreme Heat Events. American Journal of Preventive Medicine – November 2008 (Vol. 35, Issue 5, Pages 429-435, DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2008.08.021)
Huang C., Gerard Barnett A., Wang X., Vaneckova P., FitzGerald G., Tong S. (2011) Projecting Future Heat-Related Mortality under Climate Change Scenarios: A Systematic Review. Environmental Health Perspective. December 119(12): pg 1681-1690.
Heat waves, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/climatechange/effects/heat.htm
As humans burn more fossil fuels, we emit more greenhouse gases, and bring ourselves closer and closer to the impending doom of global warming. It may seem dramatic and over-played when portrayed in the media, but the consequences are real. Climate can affect global water supplies, increasing our need to conserve water and find more reliable sources especially in desert and temperate environments where water is already scarce. Continuous population growth only aggravates the problem. The problem, however, is not only a matter of water resources for our consumption; water allows for all forms of life on earth. With ever changing water and precipitation patterns in the midst of climate change, fauna and flora globally too will have to reestablish themselves or make other adaptations to be able to survive such a tumultuous time.
Changes in climate will also affect plants worldwide, thereby influencing the distribution of most other forms of life. As plants are at the first trophic level, they convert sunlight into chemical bonds of energy that are made available for next trophic level to use. If climate change stresses water supplies of plants, these effects will easily carry on to all the species that rely on those plants for survival. The natural ecosystems and biomes, or those that remain, will be hard-hit with this accelerating climate change. Plants are adapted to the regions they live in right now, but climate variations can disturb these native plants as well as crops. In this way, climate change has potential to make long lasting and calamitous effects on wildlife all over the world. As humans, we naturally first think of our own food needs, largely coming from agricultural crop and livestock production. Climate change has the potential to cause havoc not just for natural systems but for our industrial farming systems as well. As industrialized as our farming has become, humans still rely on the weather to stay stable and within a temperate range so that their crops can grow. Monoculture planting found in agricultural landscape are especially susceptible to failure under extreme conditions. A few of the possible effects of these climate changes are shown in the graphic below.
Scientific models have attempted to predict how the locations of the earth’s biomes, including agricultural lands, would change. At the rate that carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere, plants have little time to be able to evolve to better fit their new habitats. Instead of evolving, the dispersed seeds of flora will now germinate in places where they previously have not been able to because conditions were not compatible with their needs. Plants, biomes, and whole ecosystems will move towards the poles where conditions are more favorable for their growth and they have better access to water, while places closer to the equator will be become hotter and drier. Times like these prove the importance of biodiversity and species richness. The more diverse a certain species, the greater the chance that they will be able to survive a set of extreme conditions that climate change brings. Increased diversity means more alleles, and rare alleles can increase fitness of a species. The benefits of this are only often realized during disturbances. Consider the following graphics that demonstrate such a trend of drifting ecosystems and biomes.
When species find it necessary to migrate, we discover the usefulness and practicality of diverse patches of natural areas even among the most developed urban areas. Connected patches and networks will allow for animals and, more passively, plants to find their way to more suitable environments. This movement also gives species opportunities to mate with other populations thereby increasing their gene diversity and chances to share rare alleles. Biodiversity and allele diversity within species makes those plant or animal populations more stable and resilient following a time of disturbance, like extreme temperatures and precipitation that climate change brings.
Scientists have tried their best with the latest technology to try to incorporate each of the variables and feedback systems to predict specific consequences on various species. For instance, it may be that plants prosper with the excess of carbon dioxide, maximizing plant growth potential and mitigating climate changes. Or, on the other hand, it may turn out that the extirpation of animal species around the world may release 15-20% as much carbon as that coming from anthropogenic causes. Two possible effects are shown below. It is difficult to incorporate the complexities and diverse state of the natural world into a computer model, as well as include slow vegetation responses and species and population interactions. Specific effects of climate change are questionable, but we need to ask ourselves if we are really willing to risk our current systems (agricultural and otherwise) that have been working so well for us.
Of course, this is all assuming that global climate change is inevitable. Scientists are predicting what would happen if we continue to emit at current rates. It is not inevitable; we can help change the projections. We all need to realize the gravity of our choices and actions, especially in regards to energy sources. In the process of preparing for such a series of events, we need to allow for a diverse amount of species to flourish so that disastrous events will not lead to extirpation, or even extinction, of a species. Although indicator species and species that have a narrow range of tolerance will be the first hit, some plants and animals will be able to migrate as a means of adapting to the new set of environmental conditions. Before such dramatic possibilities are considered though, we should first reevaluate our lifestyles and reflect on the long term impacts of our actions on people and life in general all over the world. This way we might be more willing to make necessary adjustments to our lives in order to ensure food and water availability and presence of natural spaces for future generations to enjoy.
This post was authored by Marisa Spinella ’12, who is majoring in Environmental Studies (BS) with a minor in Architecture.
Adams, Richard M., Brian H. Hurd, Stephanie Lenhart, and Neil Leary. “Effects of Global Climate Change on Agriculture: An Interpretive Review.” Climate Research 11 (1998): 19-30. Inter-Research Science Center. 17 Dec. 1998. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.int-res.com/articles/cr/11/c011p019.pdf>.
Forman, R.T.T. Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1995
April 10, 2012
Since Los Angeles’ founding in the late 1700s, the Los Angeles River has been highly controversial. Used originally as Los Angeles’ main source of water, the Los Angeles River provided enough water for both the city’s agricultural need and its domestic needs. However, as the city’s population grew, the river failed to provide enough water to meet Los Angeles’ increased water needs. In the late 1800s, city officials realized that the once life-giving river served the city more as a sewage and trash dump than a viable source of potable water. As the city continued to grow, railroad and industrial development on the river’s bank continued to exacerbate the amount of waste discharged into the river. The unsightly river encouraged citizen to submit cleanup and beautification proposals to the city. Similarly, today, a new proposal—The Los Angeles Revitalization Plan—aims to improve the image of the river.
New legal interpretations of the Clean Water Act helped increase federal protection for the Los Angeles River. The 2006 Supreme Court case Rapanos v. United States challenged the traditional criteria for navigable waterways under the Clean Water Act. Traditionally, the Army Corps of Engineers regulates the development of flood control, navigation and reaction along waterways. Rapanos v. United States attempted to reduce ambiguity regarding the terms “waters of the United States” and “ significant nexus.” The case set precedence for what water bodies were accurately classified as a “water of the United States”. Thus, the ruling essentially clarified the criteria for waterways to be federally protected.
In 2008, the EPA declared the Los Angeles River a special Case to the Clean Water Act. In July 2008, a group of environmental activist kayaked the 51-mile Los Angeles River in order to prove the river was a navigable waterway. Known as the L.A. River Expedition, the demonstration drew attention to the river as a navigable waterway, rather than a “storm drain”. Previously, the Army Corps of Engineers classified only 5 miles of the river as a navigable waterway. However, the demonstration proved that the entire 51-mile length of the river was in fact navigable. On August 17, 2008, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water designated the Los Angeles River as a “Special Case’ as defined by the EPA-Corps 1989 Memorandum. The declaration transferred the river from the jurisdiction of the Army Corps to the EPA.
In 2010, the EPA announced that it would ensure more protection for the river under the Clean Water Act. This announcement strengthened future environmental protection for the 51-mile river and its tributary streams and wetlands. By being under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, the EPA is able to more effectively protect the river from potential pollution and destruction. These new regulations are important for protecting water quality, wildlife, recreation and public health.
In 2007, the city developed the Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan. By improving parts of the 51-mile river, city planners hope to improve water quality, increase wildlife abundance and health, and ultimately increase the economic value of adjacent neighborhoods. The plan attempts to return the splendor and natural beauty of the forgotten LA River back to the people of Los Angeles, while simultaneously maintaining necessary flood control systems. The plan consists of 239 projects along 32-miles of the river, from Canoga Park to downtown LA. Although not projected to be finished for another 25 to 50 years, the plan is envisioned as a greenway of interconnected parks and amenities acting to connect communities along the river.
The river’s master plan has many new areas for development. The plan aims to widen the channel in order to preserve its flood control capacity. Also, it hopes to expand the riparian habitat, thus increasing the watershed ecosystem. In addition to adding parks along the river’s banks, the revitalization efforts will also increase the number of walking paths, bicycle trails, gathering spaces, public art, community markers, restaurants, and mixed use areas. These recreational developments will make the river a feature destination.
Prominent city officials, such as Councilman Ed Reyes and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have advocated for the preservation of the river. These individuals reference significant areas, such as the Glendale narrows, where its soil river bottom encourages natural vegetation growth and wildlife inhabitation. Areas like the Glendale narrows encourage citizens to imagine what the river could be if it were properly restored.
While the proposal has gained significant public support, persistent economic conditions have delayed revitalization efforts. Although some areas of progress already exist along the LA River, such as bike paths and equestrian trails, the goal of creating an “emerald necklace” of parks is still far in the future. However, if completed it would offer Angelinos a fresh perception of their city: a long forgotten natural treasure.
LA River Revitalization Proposal
Before and After
And watch a video explaining the revitalization plans: http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_19008514
This post was authored by Scott Gross ’12 and Michaela McLoughlin ’12, both Environmental Studies majors.
April 5, 2012
Southern California residents have had a contentious relationship with water supply, since the founding of Los Angeles in 1781. After California became part of the United States in 1850, development and migration to Los Angeles from across the country and the world became prevalent; largely due to human perceptions of the environment that the Los Angeles River had supported. The proliferation of this trend resulted in an enduring growth in population and with it a greater need to supply water. Over the years of Los Angeles development, city officials were forced to look to outside of the city for sources water that would prove to have negative implications on the environment and for the future of Los Angeles water supply.
Prior to the extensive urbanization of Los Angeles, the L.A. River was one of the only water sources that would flow year round. Due to the distinct geology of the region, the river’s pattern constantly changed from one rainy season to the next and much of the rivers water supply came from underground sources, which made capturing and distribution of water burdensome for city officials. In the early 1900s, in response to the need for more water and to prevent underground water supplies from becoming contaminated, Los Angeles city officials took extreme actions to ensure that the city would continue to have a reliable water source, despite the increasing population. City officials were able to supply millions of additional gallons of water to residents by installing new infiltration galleries, drilling several wells into the river, and creating a 1,178-foot tunnel that was driven into bedrock and served as a reservoir to collect percolated water from the wells. However, this only provided temporary relief to the mounting water crisis in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles River, its many tributaries, and underground supply was the city’s sole source of water until 1913. After which time the river could no longer sustain the needs of the city’s growing population. Today, Los Angeles gets its water delivered across 444-miles and over some 2-000 feet of elevation from the State Water Project; the 1,400-mile long Colorado River; a share of California’s collective 30% groundwater usage; and from aqueducts that collect water from: Owens River, Mono Lake Basin, and reservoirs on the east slopes of the southern Sierra Mountains, all traveling over some 223-miles. The distance at which Los Angeles has, literally, gone to secure water for this city is astounding. Especially when considering the huge amounts of energy that providing and using water consumes. Energy is a costly and environmentally intensive resource to produce, and when coupling that with the costs of the water supply-use-disposal chain (figure 1) and we have simply compounded these costs.
According to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, one source that provides Water to Los Angeles, The State Water Project (SWP), is the single largest user of energy in California, accounting for 2 to 3 percent of all electricity consumed in the State. Supplying water through energy intensive projects like the SWP, ultimately leads to climate change, creating a water-energy-climate change feedback loop. According to this same report, power plants emit approximately 40-percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide pollution, the primary cause of climate change.
Today concerns about water trouble most regions of California and conservation efforts remain too minimal to counter the damage. Overshadowing these concerns, however, is an even greater threat—global climate change. Current carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are approximately 394 parts per million (ppm), per data from the Mauna Loa Observatory. Scientists believe that unless emissions are reduced to below 350 ppm, average temperatures in the United States could increase by five to ten degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with implications for greatly affecting water supply and water management. As more and more emerging studies continue to project rising temperatures across the world, California and LA in particular must resolve its water crisis, or soon face a crippling scarcity that could very well spell its ruin.
Climate change presents a variety of obstacles to LA’s future as a globally powerful and influential metropolis, but none are as critical as the implications this has on the region’s water supply. As previously stated, the Sierra Nevada mountain range currently provides about one third of the nearly 200 billion gallons of water each year used by customers of the Department of Water and Power. Decreased precipitation, a highly likely consequence of climate change in southern California, will reduce Sierra snowpack accumulation, which sustains much of the city’s water supply in dry months. Higher temperatures are already troubling, with snow melt occurring slightly sooner each year. This water from the mountains is one of LA’s most vital sources of high quality water, though decreased flow volume and pattern could someday change that.
Moreover, many climate models showing rainfall changes forecast an overall shift to drier climatic conditions in many of the regions that supply Los Angeles. Even minor increases in temperature have been linked to altered flow patterns, with higher rates in winter and lower rates in summer when demand is at its highest. Droughts are expected to increase in frequency across the southwest, posing a threat to southern California’s continued diversion of the Colorado River as well as increasing the concentration of pollutants in shrinking bodies of water.
There is ample evidence to support the frightening scenarios for LA’s future that are increasingly a topic of serious concern among residents. The notion of water scarcity in this region is not new and some have attempted to combat it, however nothing has proven effective. Significant advances in adaptation and mitigation measures are imperative to southern California’s future, especially if population continues to grow.
Water conservation is a complex subject, one that LA residents must understand more completely before successful strategies can emerge. It is vital to identify factors and behaviors that contribute to water supply stress so that they may be targeted and resolved. One rather evident factor is that Los Angeles has been significantly slower than other large cities in the US in assessing the future of its environment, resources, and consumption. In recent years, more and more action plans, legal measures and shareholder committees have taken form, but few encouraging reports of progress are heard. Regulations or changes to land permit terms spend years in the courts and cases for conservation are often lost. Furthermore, there are frequent instances where seemingly good policies end up hurting the situation more than they helping it. Perhaps the most relevant example of this in regards to balancing growing demand and dwindling supply is the DWP’s tiered pricing structure for water use. Besides setting the price ceiling for water far lower than a free market system would indicate, the structure favors large property owners, who pay less per gallon to irrigate each acre than owners of modest parcels and low consumption. Keeping rates for use unnaturally low hides the truth of scarcity and provides residents a false sense of security that could soon give out.
The culture of Los Angeles water use is a direct result of the flaws in the water pricing system, and has created one of the cornerstones of this culture by encouraging wasteful water use practices. Runoff from overwatered lawns, hosing down of concrete sidewalks, ornamental plants, and countless other factors serve as evidence of a lack of concern over the possible consequences of everyday things. There is no incentive to not waste water, and since the effects of widespread withdrawals have yet to truly be felt, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for government subsidies for use of newer, efficient home products to actually exacerbate consumption. When price per use falls, use often rises because the true cost that is being paid is obscured by the imposed price break.
With these things in mind, developing and enacting more effective policies and behaviors seems less formidable. Perhaps if everyone understands the implications of water scarcity, a fair and equal pricing system can be constructed. Even if everyone in LA decides they’ll keep their large yards and pay the price, the DWP would generate revenue that could be channeled into improved technology and engineering practices. For instance, treatment of the gray-water from sinks, showers, and appliances has existed for quite some time, with some facilities able to restore some wastewater into potable water. However, such facilities rarely gained approval as a result of spreading misinformation that challenged the water’s cleanliness. Even if a city’s populace refuses to drink the water, it is rarely suggested that the water be recycled for agricultural or industrial purposes despite the availability of fully adequate facilities. Treatment and reuse of some wastewater could greatly alleviate current pressure on supply, yet no one seems interested. On a better note, plans to clean up the wells beneath the San Fernando Valley floor are making progress and reflect an encouraging shift in attitudes among policymakers seeking to improve reliability of local resources.
Finally, minor individual undertakings can add up to mean a lot in a city as large as LA. Besides replacing inefficient appliances and other goods, more people are adopting the practice of xeriscaping, which involves planting of landscape vegetation that is suited to the climatic conditions. One study’s calculations found that substituting plants that are suited for LA’s arid weather for a typical lawn could save roughly 50 thousand gallons of water per year. Xeriscaping is a not only a practical step in conserving water, it can be as vibrant as any other garden so city dwellers can retain the aesthetic value that they have come to prize so greatly.
The history of extreme measures taken by the city would forever change the hydrology of southern California, the sources in which the city received her water, and continue to promote poor water usage habits by residents that persist throughout today. This has left Los Angeles vulnerable to changing climate conditions and placed and the burden on today’s generation to create solutions to address these issues. Because the consequences of overuse have rarely been directly felt, lax attitudes toward water wastefulness have become ingrained in the culture and poor policy decisions and enforcement have only made matters worse. As more studies project a dismal future for Los Angeles water supply and with climate change and development continuing to grow, city dwellers are faced with the need to change their habits before it’s too late. By isolating the key contributing factors of this water crisis, and adopting long term strategies for adaptation and mitigation, the city might find a way out of the mess that began so long ago when the first settlers arrived on the pristine banks of the LA River.
This post was written by Christina Robles ’12 and Gabrielle Ripert ’12 who are both pursuing a B.A. in Environmental Studies.
Climatopolis by Matthew Kahn
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power website
Natural Resources Defense Counsel
Water Education Foundation
In many respects, it’s unsurprising to learn that the passive disdain with which most modern Angelinos regard the Los Angeles River was not an overnight development. The contemptuous nature of our relationship with the river dates back more than a century, and no matter what we would like to believe today, “[the river] was never the center of local life as some modern-day environmentalists have supposed” (Gumprecht 123). For instance, what little does appear about the L.A. River in the historical record generally takes the form of complaints about the various ways in which the river aggrieved local residents, namely by overflowing its banks. Infinitely more common than mentions of the river itself, however, are descriptions of the Southern California region’s bountiful croplands and high standard of living, both of which the L.A. River directly enabled.
Examining the reasons behind Los Angeles’ longstanding neglect of its eponymous river brings to light some concerning trends as to how we interact with the natural world. Interestingly, the L.A. River did play a fundamental role in establishing the city in its present location, but not in the usual way that a river fosters municipal expansion. Los Angeles began as a railroad town, more or less, precisely because the river devalued the surround area: Because the river was so prone to flooding, land on either side of the banks was deemed low-grade, and unfit for residential or other commercial purposes. Judged unsuitable for most other uses, the land lining the river became railroad. Particularly near the station, the newly lain railway incited the development of some of the city’s first industrial buildings, where “[w]arehouses, lumber yards, blacksmith shops, foundries, and wagon factories began to displace the vineyards and orchards” (Gumprecht 125).
Obviously, by initiating the city’s transition away from agriculture, instead positioning it as a center of industry, the L.A. River had a vital role in shaping present day Los Angeles. But one possible explanation for the chronic disregard shown by Angelinos toward the L.A. River could be that it doesn’t offer the utilities conventionally supplied by a river: Its flow was too meager and too inconsistent to ever make the waterborne transport of goods a viable consideration; by the time industry had become sufficiently widespread so as to make hydroelectric power necessary, too much of the surface water had been drained to make turning a turbine practical; and the feeble trickle of water in the channel was — thankfully — judged inadequate to dilute sewage, let alone wash effluents downstream (Gumprecht 125). For settlers relocating from other parts of the country, accustomed as they were to different, more robust varieties of rivers, the L.A. River scarcely constituted a proper river at all.
Given its meager surface flow and accordingly limited conventional uses, it makes sense why the L.A. River would be afforded less respect — reverence, even — than a river like the Colorado, that carved the Grand Canyon, or the “Mighty Mississippi,” which is so much a part of the local identity as to take on an almost mythic quality. But the L.A. River is no less important to the watershed it drains than the Colorado or Mississippi are to theirs. Just because it might be less superficially imposing does not diminish the absolutely crucial ecosystem services it provides.
In many respects, early Angelinos’ neglect of the L.A. River parallels certain actions of contemporary environmental non-governmental organizations. When designing campaigns to mobilize action against deforestation, overfishing, climate change and other environmental ills that lead to species loss and extinction, NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund have been criticized for disproportionately emphasizing the plights of so-called “charismatic megafauna” —whales and polar bears, for instance — while overlooking keystone species that may be more important but less photogenic. Such organizations rightly acknowledge that “if that’s what interests people then that’s how we start the conversation about conservation” (Tesar), but when discussing water resources, that rationale doesn’t hold water quite as well (pun initially unintended, but later gleefully embraced).
Time after time, Americans have demonstrated a characteristic inability to value things that might not appear valuable. Our history of neglect and abuse of the L.A. River unfortunately fits this trend to a T, but with increased education about its less-than-obvious importance, the river will hopefully gain the respect it deserves from the region it serves.
This post was authored by Louis Lucero II ’12 who is majoring in Environmental Studies with a double minor in English and Screenwriting.
Gumprecht, Blake. “Who Killed the Los Angeles River?” Land of Sunshine: An Environmental History of Metropolitan Los Angeles. Eds. William Deverell and Greg Hise. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006. 115-134.
Tesar, Clive. “Tracking megafauna in Iceland.” Thin Ice blog. WWF, 27 June 2011. Web. <http://blogs.panda.org/arctic2/2011/06/27/tracking-megafauna-in-iceland/>.
April 2, 2012
When people think of the Los Angeles River nowadays, no one thinks much about it. As Blake Gumprecht states in his third chapter about the Los Angeles River, “Despite its utilitarian importance, the river also seems to have been one of the least-photographed sites in early Los Angeles” (Gumprecht, 111). But considering the LA River to be an eyesore was never the unanimous opinion. In the early years before the United States gained control over California in 1848, the early Tongva tribes, Spanish settlers and Mexican settlers were drawn to the area of Los Angeles due to the Los Angeles River. The river at this time flowed strongly enough to maintain the populations settling within the area, providing drinking water along with water supplies for agricultural purposes. The area was an agricultural goldmine, “capable of producing every kind of grain and fruit which may be planted” as Father Crespi wrote as he entered the Los Angeles area in 1769 (Bolten). Even when the United States took over the land, Los Angeles was filled with agricultural land growing oranges, grapes, along with a wide array of other crops. But slowly as the people of Los Angeles turned their attention toward oil drilling and other industrial practice, the attention to agriculture and the river as source of beauty and growth dwindled.
Gumprecht notes that development really started in the Los Angeles area once the Transcontinental Railroad was completed and the city was now linked with the rest of the world. Towns began springing up along rail lines, and industrialization took over this area. The railroads traveled alongside the riverbed, becoming the city’s main form of export and transportation, since the river was never large enough to support large transportation. The river turned into an exaggerated picture of beauty that would draw newcomers to the city who soon realized it was not a large staple within the community. The Los Angeles River was solely a source of drinking water and quickly dried up with the ever-growing population being brought over through the railroad system.
Railroads coming to Los Angeles was potentially one of the best developments and worse developments for the city. The area did not stand out among other Southern Californian cities because it had no direct port, and the LA River was not substantial enough to connect the city to sea ports. The railroads however could connect the city to the Pacific Ocean along with San Francisco and the east. But with this “power” source that made it a competitive city within industry came environmental impacts that Los Angeles still faces today. The railroads followed the river bed, and industrial plants wanted to follow the railways for convenience matters. Slowly all the industrial sites lined the LA River, which was drying up with the high demand for water. Even though officials said the river was not strong enough to support waste disposal, large companies were still dumping their waste into the river and taking what little resources they could from the river bed to maintain their expansion and development. The railroads close proximity to the river made industries able to also develop here and use the resources of the riverbed as they pleased. But the development of railroads and industry themselves destroyed the quality of the river for most of the history of Los Angeles and made the city much more prone to flooding.
Floods were for the most part seen as beneficial until the boom of the 1880’s. the floodwater deposited silt that enriched the soil, restored moisture to dry ground, and washed away salts that had accumulated because of irrigation. Floods, for the most part, did little damage because their low banks overflowed before the flow intensified and spread slowly over the country. The depth of any given flood rarely exceeded a foot and its velocity was minimal. In addition, there was less potential for damage because few people had constructed buildings or homes along the river because they knew to stay away from flood prone lands. Agriculture was the extent of riverside development until 1876. Most residential areas were situated on terraces and benches east of the river. The flood of 1862, which may have been the most extensive flood in the history of California, only resulted in “insignificant” damage (Gumprecht, 150).
According to Gumprecht, a lot changed in southern California when the railroad arrived. In 1876 the Southern Pacific Railroad extended its path from San Francisco to Los Angeles and people began to pour into the city. Long beach was founded in 1888 and became the county’s fourth largest city. The growing population increased the demand for trade. As a result, the city rushed to build a port on San Pedro Bay. Urban areas began to pop up all alongside the river. Newcomers constructed homes and businesses in the flood plain and within dry streambeds. Large amounts of tress and vegetation, that once slowed the floodwaters and held the soil in place, were removed. Construction crews used sand and gravel from the river and by doing so lowered the channel by 20 feet. They inadvertently increased the power of the river by forcing all the runoff into a narrower path. Flood hazard increased exponentially. Individuals attempted to protect their own property by building levies but their efforts were futile.
Aside from the surge of population growth caused by the railroads, railroads also directly increased flood hazard in Los Angles. Rail lines often used trestle bridges, which act like dams during heavy storms. Debris, tress, and other material being carried by the river would stack up behind the bridge, force water out of the channel and flood nearby lands or would knock down the bridge itself and unleash a rush of water and debris that endangered the people downstream. In addition the planning or lack of planning of the rail lines was not very wise. Some rail lines were build on flood plains or artificial embankments that constrained flood waters that would have otherwise spread over a wide area and made them more powerful. (Gumprecht)
Few people noticed the precarious situation Los Angeles was putting itself in. Most of the settlers were newcomers and had no knowledge of the river’s power and ignored the warning of those who did. The occasional flood was acceptable in their mind as long as they lived in paradise. But, major storms did not hit until 1884. That year the floods resulted in $2.4 to $16.3 million in damages. The river washed away homes, train cars and there are accounts of dead horses, cows and people drifting in the river. Families were left homeless and lost everything.
One would think that by now Angelinos and city planners have learned their lessons but that is not the case. In 1884 the LA times reported: “The river rose all night and created a scene of destruction, at points close to its banks, which can hardly be pictured. Numbers of families lost everything they had. The destruction is immense”. Almost 150 years later, in 2010, msnbc quotes a victim of the Decemebr 2010 floods: “We didn’t have time to get anything. It happened really fast, water started coming in from all the walls. Then the wall fell and we got out through the window.” J. J. Warner warned Angelinos in 1882 “of the risk to which many…are exposing themselves, their property and their families in the selection of places upon which to build their dwellings” (Gumprecht, 154). Over a century has passed and we continue to ignore his warning.
Bolten, Herbert Eugene. 1927. Frey Juan Crespi: Missionary Explorer. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Gumprecht, Blake. The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth.Johns Hopkins University Press: June 1999.
NBC, Msnbc.com, NBC,, and News Services. “Mud, More Evacuations in Wake of L.A.-area Storm.” Msnbc.com. Msnbc Digital Network, 22 Dec. 2010. Web. 27 Mar. 2012. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40779006/ns/weather/t/mud-more-evacuations-wake-la-area-storm/>.
This post was authored by Amelia Bahr ’12 and Evelyn Cintron ’12 both majoring in Environmental Studies.
March 30, 2012
As Los Angeles as the surrounding areas have continued to develop, access clean drinking water has consistently been a vital factor to sustaining this growth. The reading discussed the channelization and water management factors regarding the Los Angeles River. However, in order to meet the needs of Los Angeles residents many adjacent rivers have required similar control methods. When the San Gabriel flooded in the 1900’s, changing course and dividing into separate rivers, the damage was severe. Since then, the San Gabriel has been dammed multiple times, reducing flood danger and has had channels established along the banks of the San Gabriel and the Rio Hondo. These rivers, essentially the old and new forks of the San Gabriel, have year round flow due to these water control methods which has significant implications for the residents of the Los Angeles Basin.
Although the rivers are now considered in different watersheds, they are both funneled through the Whittier Narrows. Therefore, the Whittier Narrows Dam has become a vastly important structure in flood control and water resources since its construction in the 1950’s.
In conjunction with 4 other dams the San Gabriel River’s danger to residents has been reduced and enhanced providing for recreation and drinking water. The Whittier Narrows Dam itself has about a capacity of 67 k acre ft however the nearby spreading grounds make the area much more effective at storing water than most other dams. By releasing water from the Dam into the spreading grounds the LA county Department of Public Works estimates that 150 k acre ft of water are recharged into the ground supply through the use of these dams.
The spreading grounds are similar in operation to the facilities described in Chapter 3 near Burbank that recharge water in the Verdugo Wash. The water passes through the a treatment facility and then enters the spreading grounds (as pictured above) which have also become an area that supports a wide range of recreational activities. While flood control measures have changed the ecology of the region they were necessary for population growth. It would seem that dams that focus on replenishing groundwater resources should be a focus as demand continues to increase.
The Sepulveda Flood Control Basin and Dam are another example in taming the Los Angeles River.. In 1938, the Los Angeles River flooded farms and homes, killing 144 people and causing about $40 million in damage ($360 million in 1994 dollars). As a consequence of the historic 1938 flood, the public demanded that the river be controlled. The Army Corps of Engineers began channelizing the river in 1938, completing work in 1960. Located near the intersection of the 101 and 405 freeways, the Sepulveda Dam was completed in 1941 to further protect San Fernando Valley residents from floods.
During winters when waters stream down from high elevations, the reservoir can hold up to 17,000-acre-feet of water. The dam and basin control the heavy winter flow rates, preventing flooding of the river downstream along the Los Angeles River, also allowing the trapped runoff to seep back into the water table without causing further damage. Recently, in the 1980 flood, water reached about twenty from the top of the dam, filling the dam to about two-thirds of its capacity.
Although the central function of the flood basin is the control of floods, the basin has enjoyed a new role. Beginning in the 1960s, the Sepulveda Dam and its surrounding area has played host to many recreational activities. The area includes many golf courses, sports centers, and parks. The most interesting feature of the park being Lake Balboa, a 27-acre lake filled with reclaimed water. Visitors participate in activities such as fishing, boating, jogging, and bicycling along a paved bike path. The area also includes aJapaneseGarden at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant, where visitors can see evidence of the peaceful and beautiful uses of water.
The reclaimed water enters the Los Angeles River in the Sepulveda Basin. As much as 75 million gallons of water is released daily from the reclamation plant into the basin, adding to the Los Angeles River’s modern day year-round supply. While this water is not suitable for drinking, it has been treated enough to not pose a health hazard. This treatment is vital for the wildlife that resides in the basin today. The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve gives visitors an idea of what Southern California looked like before agriculture and industrialization changed the valley. Visitors might find cottonwoods and sycamores lining the valley, along with birds such as herons, egrets and ducks. Small birds like the woodpecker and oriole also make homes in the Reserve.
The Whittier Narrows Dam and the Sepulveda Dam are two of the 19 dams in Los Angeles, helping to prevent floods and also recharging groundwater from rainfall and runoff. As the Los Angeles population grows, these two projects work towards replenishing the dwindling water supply and protecting residents from natural disaster. Whittier Narrows and the Sepulveda Basin have proven a great opportunity to educate the public and promote efficient water use, serving as a recreational area in addition to their roles as a flood-control basins. The flood control measures at both sites sprouted from residential problems with population growth in an area where floods were likely. Their focus on flood control, groundwater recharge, and recreation has without doubt added to their success.
This post was written by Daniel Kasang ’12 and Christopher Miranda ’12, who are each pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Studies.
With the population in Los Angeles County fast approaching 10 million, it’s hard to imagine that just 19-25 miles off the Ventura coast, sits an unpopulated island of 96 square-miles that has remained in near pristine condition for thousands of years. As the largest of the Channel Islands, Santa Cruz is able to exist in such a preserved state largely due to it being positioned in one of the most biologically rich and productive marine regions in the Eastern Pacific – known as the Southern California Bight. Just south of Point Conception, portions of the southerly flowing California Current bend eastward towards shore into the Santa Barbara-Ventura Basin that separates the Northern Channel Islands from the mainland. There, this cold, nutrient-rich current converges with the warm, saline waters of the California Countercurrent as part of the larger ocean gyre system that’s created by the mixing of the California Current System around the Channel Islands. The combination of oceanic and climatic factors that make Santa Cruz so unique and rich in biodiversity have also helped lead to its protection and preservation, as 76% is owned by the Nature Conservancy, and the remaining 24% by the National Park Service.
Santa Cruz is not only the largest island, but it also has the highest peak (Picacho Diablo), which helps to create the many different microclimates on the island, also causing it to also have the greatest number of plant and animal species as well; 650 types of plants can be found here, and 480 of them are native to the island. The unique biogeography of the Southern California Bight has resulted in the Channel Islands being the exclusive home to 37 plant species; 8 of which are endemic to Santa Cruz alone, meaning they can be found nowhere else on the planet.
It is one thing to read descriptions of the natural history of Santa Cruz, but there is always a lot more to be gained personal experience and hands-on learning. Over the weekend, I was given the opportunity to camp at the field research station on Santa Cruz as part of a class field trip. The purpose of the trip was for observational analysis; it gave us a chance to visualize and discuss the relationships between the island’s many biogeographic characteristics, and to visualize concepts such as how variations in spatial distribution and types of vegetation are correlated to things like sun exposure and the gradient of the hillside. For example, in the following photo, you can distinctly see the how the concentration of vegetation increases as the gradient decreases and nears the low-lying center of the drainage basin – closer to the water table.
The slopes of the more distant mountains on the left are much steeper and higher in elevation, causing rainfall to drain rapidly. The resulting smaller concentration of plants found here are likely to be better adapted for faster water absorption and longer retention. The lack of vegetation could also be the result of a rainshadow effect that results from the sharp rise in elevation forcing moisture flowing onshore to condense and precipitate in order to rise over the mountains. In the absence of strong onshore winds, the lower elevations and valleys retain more moisture as fog, which can further be correlated to the increase in the abundance of vegetation shown in the photo. The hills on the right have a smaller gradient at a lower elevation. These factors allow the plants to accumulate more water and lead to the growth of the more herbaceous vegetation.
With so many valleys and rapid changes in elevation across the island, there are many resulting microclimates that contribute to the overall high level of plant diversity. One of our goals of the trip was to identify some of the island’s native and rare endemic species as we hiked across different parts of the island. Of the ones we observed, 15 native samples were collected and placed into flower presses. In the photos below, you can see my personal favorites, the Giant Coreopsis, Coreopsis gigantean (top), and the Island Morning Glory Calystegia macrostegia (below).
One of the focus areas of the trip was to compare Catalina and Santa Cruz islands in terms of climate, plant and animal abundance and diversity, and comparing the anthropogenic effects of settlements on Catalina to the long-preserved state of Santa Cruz. For example, due to the increased grazing pressure on Catalina from introduced species like deer, buffalo, and cattle, some of the undergrowth tended to evolve upwards over time in order to be higher out of reach. On Santa Cruz, the lack of grazers is reflected in the more shrub-like and spread out orientation of some of the vegetation. Over time, the grazers also led to differences in the distribution of certain plant species on the islands. The Giant Coreopsis is a good example of this because it’s preferred by many grazers; it is found growing abundantly on Santa Cruz in many different microclimates, whereas on Catalina it is mostly found growing on coastal bluffs – out of reach of the grazers. One of the interesting things we learned involved the complex relationship between the eagles and native foxes, as well as populations of feral pigs and spotted skunks. While they are damaging to certain types of vegetation, the role of these introduced pigs on the islands evolved over time to play a key part of the recovery efforts of both Bald and Golden Eagles on the islands, and reduce the predation pressure on some of the recovering populations of native island foxes.
As part of the restoration program, nesting pairs of eagles have tagged and monitored, and recently it was discovered that two bald eagle chicks have been born in nests on Santa Cruz Island. It was also the earliest that eggs had ever been laid since recover efforts began, and as of Wednesday, March 7th, a record 15 breeding pairs of eagles are known to be living among the Channel Islands, showing that they are making a solid recovery. In order to monitor the progress of the nests and increase awareness of their conservation efforts, live footage of 4 of the nests can be streamed below. There are two nests on both Catalina and Santa Cruz, and what’s even more exciting is that the eggs in these nests are all within a couple weeks of hatching.
I believe that stories like these help to highlight the importance of keeping the Santa Cruz preserved in its most natural state for future generations to see and learn from. It was a great hands-on educational experience and allowed us the opportunity to see what the island may well have looked like thousands of years ago.
This post was authored by Genivieve McCormick ’12 who is pursuing a BS in Environmental Studies and Mabel Nevarez ’12 who is pursuing a BA in Environmental Studies.
External media sources:
March 27, 2012
The island fox is one of the many endemic species that inhabit the Chanel Islands. The fox is the largest native mammal on the islands and was the top predator for thousands of years. It is believed that the island fox evolved from the gray fox, which came over from the mainland more than 18,000 years ago by rafting on pieces of debris from storms. Since the arrival of the grey fox, six subspecies of the island fox have evolved on the islands. The island fox is one-third the size of its ancestor. Urocyon littoralis santacruzae is the scientific name of the Santa Cruz Island fox.
While historically, the Santa Cruz island fox stood at the top of the island’s food web, a process known as hyperpredation caused ecosystem interactions to be restructured. Hyperpredation refers to a scenario in which an indigenous species is subject to increased predation from an exotic predator that is able to live because of availability of an exotic prey. On Santa Cruz Island, the indigenous island fox experienced increased predation from nonnative golden eagles that were able to colonize the island because of the abundance of feral pigs.
Pigs came to Santa Cruz Island in the 1800s when European settlers brought them over with sheep to serve as domestic livestock. Pigs that escaped or were let loose quickly established large feral populations on the island and reeked havoc on its ecosystem. Since pigs reproduce at alarming rates, large litters of piglets attracted golden eagles to the island in the 1990s. The piglets served as an abundant year-round food source that allowed the golden eagles to establish themselves on the island. Golden eagles would have become a problem sooner on the island, but a population of territorial bald eagles prevented them from establishing themselves. Unfortunately, by 1960, the bald eagle populations had disappeared because of hunting and DDT contamination.
While golden eagles prey on skunks, pigs, and foxes, the fox population has taken a disproportional hit in comparison to the other two prey populations. Pigs have the advantage of being able to reproduce throughout the year. They are also able to outgrow predation. Skunks avoid a lot of predation due to the fact that they are nocturnal creatures. Foxes, on the other hand, only reproduce once a year, are mostly active during the day, and can’t outgrow predation. In 1994, the island fox population was at around 1,5000. By 2001, the population had fallen to around 60. This amounts to a 95% reduction in population size in less than a decade. The Santa Cruz Island fox was declared an endangered species in 2004 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
With the survival of the island fox at risk, a multi-layer approach was executed to return balance to the Santa Cruz ecosystem. This comprehensive eco-system recovery plan included captive breeding of the island fox, relocating the golden eagles that preyed upon the foxes, eradicating the feral pigs, and re-establishing the bald eagle on the island. Each component of this plan worked together to restore balance and successfully led to one of the fastest recoveries of an endangered species in US history. Since the foxes were first listed as federally endangered the population has grown by 20 to 30% annually. The total number of wild foxes has increased to over 410, with the island fox survival rate around 96% on the tracked and monitored foxes, all in less than a decade.
In order to boost the total fox population, a captive breeding program was established in 2001 on Santa Cruz Island. First wild foxes were caught, and breeding pairs were established. In 2005, 20 pups were born in captivity, with a total of 85 pups born over the programs six years. While captive breeding always brings about the issue of human interaction altering the behavior of wild animals, such a program was essential for boosting the total population in the wild. Additionally, the establishment of a successful breeding program represents a future for island foxes, because when numbers get exceptionally low, scientists can conceivably save the population from extinction by breeding pups in captivity. On advantage that the captive breeding program on Santa Cruz Island held over some of the other programs on other Channel Islands is that the large remaining wild population allowed for the program to increase the number of founders in captivity on a regular basis. If mating pairs were unsuccessful, they were able to bring in other foxes to breed with. This helped to increase the genetic diversity of those bred in captivity. These foxes were also vaccinated against canine distemper virus and rabies in order to limit the risk of disease causing a population threat down the line.
At first the pups released to the wild were quickly being eaten by the golden eagles, but as the Golden Eagle population on Santa Cruz was relocated to the mainland, the survival rate of pups increased dramatically. The relocation of the eagles was a crucial part of the fox recovery, as predation by eagles was identified as the cause of death for over 72% of the monitored foxes between 2000 and 2006. However, it was no simple task to be able to remove these eagles as they are legally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty as well as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Acts. Once given permission to relocate these animals, 32 golden eagles have been captured and released on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These magnificent birds are often captured using dug-in nets placed in areas that eagles frequent. The nets are baited with dead feral pigs or live rabbits, and radio-controlled to capture the eagle. The eagles are transported in large commercial sky kennels and are always released on the mainland within 24 hours. Today, Santa Cruz is thought to be home to less than 10 Golden Eagles that have continued to evade capture. Thanks to a very successful relocation program by the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, the fox’s main predatory has been eliminated allowing for the foxes to recover.
However, relocating the current eagles to the mainland is an insufficient solution, without also removing the prey that first established the colony of golden eagles on the island. As a result, an intense feral pig eradication program has also taken place, resulting in the removal of over 5,000 pigs from the island by 2006. Today, no feral pigs remain. Santa Cruz sectioned off the island, and proceeded to hunt the pigs in each section, often shooting from a low-flying helicopter. Relocation of the pigs was not an option as Federal and State laws prevent moving these pigs to the mainland, due to potential diseases. This removal of pigs has also benefitted many native plants that were being destroyed by the pig population, such as the blue dick flower. The eradication of the pigs is thought to be the most important step in restoring the natural Santa Cruz ecosystem.
They also are working to re-establish the bald eagle, in order to prevent the golden eagle from recolonizing and re-threatening the fox in the future. The bald eagle used to occupy the island but was destroyed by high DDT levels off the coast. While the bald eagles eat fish, seabirds, and animal carcasses, they do not eat live foxes and therefore do not present a danger to the recovering species. Additionally, the bald eagles are extremely territorial, and since golden eagles and bald eagles hardly co-habitat anywhere, the increase in bald eagles would keep golden eagles from moving back to Santa Cruz. This effort is being led by the Institute for Wildlife Studies and the Montrose Settlement, who have released over 50 bald eagles since efforts began in 2002. For further reading on the bald eagle efforts, follow along at http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/california/explore/santa-cruz-island-bald-eagles-hatching-hope-2010.xml
Although the eco-system is certainly well on its way to recovering its natural balance, a few issues remain. The greatest concern is that the original depletion to merely 70 foxes created somewhat of a genetic bottleneck, reducing the overall genetic variability within the fox population. This may lead to the fox population being more susceptible to diseases and other threats that will impact all foxes with similar genetic traits. Additionally, there remains the question of how well the pups bred in captivity will be able to teach their young how to behave in the wild, since they lacked that form of training and it is believed that foxes parent their young through the first year. Whenever humans involve themselves in the raising of wild animals, there is a question of how that human interaction will impact the animal’s behavior in the long run. Outside of the fox problem, the Santa Cruz ecosystem is still threatened by non-native plants such as fennel overwhelming the natural vegetation which the animal populations rely on.
All in all, the eradication of feral pigs and relocation of golden eagles have allowed for the island foxes to recover at an unprecedented speed, making Santa Cruz Island an endangered species recovery success story.
This post was authored by Melissa Krigbaum ’12 a double major in Environmental Studies and Economics and by Alex Anthony ’12 majoring in Environmental Studies.
March 11, 2012
The Los Angeles River’s early settlement was marked by Tongva tribes, also known as the Gabrielino Indians. The river provided a rich plant and animal habitat that allowed the Gabrielino Indians to thrive in present-day Los Angeles and Orange Counties, including parts of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. They also moved throughout the Channel Islands. It was not until 1769 that the first written description of the Los Angeles River is entered by Juan Crespi on the Portola expedition. He described his experience saying “After traveling about a league and a half through a pass between low hills, we entered a very spacious valley, well grown with cottonwoods and alders, among which ran a beautiful river . . . This plain where the river runs is very extensive. It has good land for planting all kinds of grain and seeds, and is the most suitable site of all that we have seen for a mission, for it has all the requisites for a large settlement.” Instantly, the importance of the river for means of production became apparent to the Spanish.
The earliest Spanish settlers brought very new values to California’s water, land, and native people. Nature was seen as an obstacle to conquer and make useful, and the California land was a perfect place to develop missions, pueblos, and of course, military holdings or forts. However, because much of California lacked sufficient water resources, the Los Angeles River was made useful by the original Los Angeles Spanish pueblo, El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles. Each of the original inhabitants, only eleven pobladores after 3 were expelled, with their families, “ . . . was given a house lot and four fields for planting crops, only two of which were to have access to irrigation water” (Gumprecht 43). The pueblo followed the same consistent form set forth by the Spanish government in the establishment of the first pueblo at the Guadalupe River in San Jose 1777. “In its early years, the town was a small, isolated cluster of adobe-brick houses and random streets carved out of the desert, and its main product was grain” (Los Angeles History).
Although Pueblos were the centers for Spanish civilians, they needed water distribution systems to succeed. The Spanish Crown officially claimed ownership of water resources but it did grant water rights for the common benefit of the Spanish settlers. The earliest system focused on a dam upstream, at a higher elevation, and a main irrigation ditch known as the Zanja Madre in order to provide a flow of water to the Pueblo and agricultural land. This main water ditch carried domestic and irrigated water from the upstream diversion, near today’s North Broadway. The local town council, known as the Ayuntamiento, usually made water decisions and elected a Zanjero, who supervised irrigation and water rights.
When the first Spanish missions were founded in Baja California, they were having difficulties growing food and feeding themselves. They would rely on funds from Spain and from food from central Mexico, most likely from the agriculturally fertile area known as Sinaloa. They lacked the hunting and gathering techniques that the local Indians possessed, which they also relied on at times for food. Felipe de Neve, who came to be the first governor of Los Angeles, was sent by the viceroy of New Spain to seek more fertile soil farther north.
When they arrived, Los Angeles was founded as an agricultural village by the Spanish to prevent the same problem they had suffered down South. It is the land nearer to the Los Angeles River that proved to be the most fertile and the best fit for founding the pueblo. Families from the areas of Sonora and Sinaloa, Mexico were chosen in 1781 to inhabit the pueblo and to begin to farm with supplies provided by the Spanish. After the water system was in place, the first crops were wheat, beans, and maize. Five years later, in 1786, the pueblo was able to sustain itself. Grain was the primary and most successful crop by 1796, but most of this success was due to the hard-working Indians, who were sent by the colonists to do most of the work. In about 50 years, the cattle industry began, which was to crash due to drought. But Los Angeles itself did not crash because grape vines became so abundant and were to sustain it.
In 1826, Joseph Chapman put in 4,000 vines and became the first grower in Los Angeles, growing vines that up until that time had only been grown and sold privately by missionaries and other individuals. By the 1830s, many Angelinos and even some immigrants were growing “mission” grapes and grapes of many other varieties for profit and producing wine and brandy. But it was not until Jean Louis Vignes, a Frenchman, fed up with the too-sour taste of the “mission” grapes, brought in the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc from France that grape-growing became a real industry. Los Angeles then became famous nation-wide, sending wine and brandy to San Pedro, San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and even to the east coast to New York and Boston. Orange groves also became prominent and widespread throughout Los Angeles, especially because a need for agricultural diversity presented itself when more people came because of the Gold Rush and the transcontinental railroads. Angelinos then came to grow at least 40 other crops.
Most people believe grape-growing in California originated in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, but history proves otherwise, that it originated in Southern California. This industry is one of the factors that helped Los Angeles grow and gain its fame. This success all came as a result of the farming that was initiated by the Spanish to feed their missions. Success was also due in large part to the fertile soil and natural abundance of water from the Los Angeles River. It is the same Los Angeles River that maintained the Gabrielinos, that called the Spanish from Mexico, and that nourished the many crops that fed Los Angeles and helped it grow to eventually become what it is today.
This post was authored by Patrick Talbott’12 who is pursuing a B.S. and M.A. in Environmental Studies and by Alejandra Rocha’12 who is pursuing a B.A. in Environmental Studies.
Gumprecht, Blake. The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth. Johns Hopkins University Press: June 1999.
“Los Angeles: History.” Cities of the United States. 5th ed. Vol. 2: The West. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 129-130. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 04 Mar. 2012.
El Pueblo: Los Angeles Before the Railroads. [Los Angeles]: Equitable branch of the Security trust & savings bank, 1928.
Street, Richard S. “First Farm Workers.” CogWeb: Cognitive Cultural Studies. Web. 04 Mar. 2012.