The Meaning of Hahamongna

The original settlers of the region were sometimes called the Hahamongna Indians. The word means "Flowing Waters, Fruitful Valley" in the native Tongva language.

Hahamongna News

Title:

Arcadia's oak habitat illustrates challenges facing county flood control

Subtitle:

Date:

2011-01-16

Author:

Frank C. Girardot, Staff Writer

Publication:

Pasadena Star-News

Content:

ARCADIA - The 11-acre woodland home of birds, bobcats and black bears destroyed this week by a contractor on behalf of Los Angeles County might someday be reborn.

A plan put forward by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich would set aside $650,000 of county funds to reseed the oak woodland habitat - once mud and debris dredged from the ancient Santa Anita Dam has been spread at the site.

"We really want to take this and create some sort of environment that provides a benefit for future generations," said Tony Bell, Antonovich's spokesman.

And while that may salve some of the wounds activists say have been inflicted on one of the San Gabriel Valley's last remaining natural habitats, county officials admit it doesn't solve the problems created by millions of tons of mud and debris trapped behind dams and in basins ringing the foothills.

"What happened in this area is a microcosm of the whole challenge with the flood control system," said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. "There is so much debris poised to come down these hills, we have to find a solution."

The problem stems largely from wildfires in the region, Spencer said, including the massive 2009 Station Fire, the largest in county history.

"Prior to that - in 2009 - we did a forecast that showed our debris basins had 20 years of life," Spencer said. "After the Station Fire that accelerated to three years."

As it stands, Arcadia's old oaks aren't the only county wilderness area facing destruction to make way for sediment. Officials are already considering the relocation of sediment from Devil's Gate Dam.
That mud could wind up on a 40-acre mature black willow woodland in the Hahamongna Watershed Park, officials and activists said.

But it won't happen without a fight.

In a letter to the media and other activists, Lori Paul, a member of the Arroyos and Foothills Conservancy, wrote Thursday that any further destruction of natural habitat to make room for debris is unacceptable. Her letter threatened legal action.

Paul contends county officials will forego an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when they are ready to remove mud from behind the dam.

"In Hahamongna, the county is claiming they don't need to do any EIR nor get any approvals from the (state Department of Fish and Game) because the 2009 fire has caused a `public emergency' to exist," Paul wrote. "Of course, if it really were an `urgent emergency' ... why has the county done little since the fire?"

Paul expresses the fear that tearing down the willows and sluicing mud into the park will ultimately make it easier for Pasadena to build soccer fields.

"What is needed is a new way of looking at flood control sediment as a resource, instead of a liability,' she wrote. "Sediment is needed at beaches, as construction fill (for large landscaping, erosion and restoration projects) and to fill in hazardous quarry pits. Continually destroying the landscape with large piles of dirt is unsustainable, costly, and destructive."

While wildfires have created a problem for flood control and debris management, officials agree there may be solutions that don't require tree removal.

Finding those solutions makes up the second part of Antonovich's proposal, Bell said. The key is getting "stakeholders" on board.

There are plenty of them - a myriad of federal, state and county agencies, as well as homeowner associations and environmental groups, he noted.

The most discussed options include filling gravel pits in Irwindale or transporting mountain debris to the coast - option that are under serious consideration by county public works, Spencer said.

But cost and history may stand in the way.

Dams like Hahamongna, and Santa Anita were first proposed in the early 20th century, when the state established the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.

The district was created in response to a series of floods in 1915 that "took a heavy toll on lives and property," according to the DPW's website. It encompasses the San Gabriel River watershed and the Los Angeles River watershed as well as "14 dams to protect the people of this county," Spencer said.

But those dams also "stopped the natural process" of mud flowing into the ocean, Spencer said.

On the other hand, the dams and debris basins have prevented tragedies like those that occurred in December in San Bernardino and Orange counties, where flash flooding destroyed property and claimed lives.

For now, getting mud from the flood control system into either the ocean or an Irwindale gravel pit is a costly and potentially environmentally hazardous project, officials said.

For example the DPW said the 500,000 cubic yards of silt backed up behind the Santa Anita dam would require 120 trucks a day - hauling it seven days a week, over a two-year period - to remove.

In Tujunga, the DPW faced a similar situation at the May Sediment Placement Site, where officials chose to remove the muck via truck. Since the Station Fire, those trucks have been operating 24 hours a day in residential neighborhoods, Spencer said.

Not the perfect solution.

"When residents said, `You can't go through here,' we ended up having to build a separate road," he said.

Then there's the fees Irwindale officials would surely require for use of truck traffic and use of dormant pits, Spencer said.

Right now, the only "viable, feasible solution is in the settlement placement sites - like the one in Arcadia - that the county purchased 60 years ago for this purpose," Spencer said.

Any future solutions will require teamwork, Bell said.

"Going forward we want to vet every possible alternative with the stakeholders," he said. "Ultimately we want sure that everyone has the opportunity to weight in."

frank.girardot@sgvn.com

626-578-6300, ext. 4478

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