Canyon Restoral Project May Be Back on Track

City Council to vote to hire new firm to create full Environmental Impact Report for Arroyo Seco Canyon Project

Published : Monday, March 25, 2019 | 4:41 AM

A planned project to repair and replace facilities in the Arroyo Seco area damaged by floods in 2010, which was halted by a court decision in 2017, may be getting another opportunity.

The City Council will vote Monday on a recommendation to approve the hiring of Dudek, a Pasadena-based environmental consulting firm, to prepare a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and assist with permitting on the project.

According to the City staff report, “the proposed project will restore the impaired capacity and improve the system to better facilitate using the surface water rights for beneficial purposes, which is an important component in protecting those rights.”

An area of human disturbance to the natural environment over the last few decades, this restoration plan would improve habitat for wildlife and the Arroyo Seco Ecosystem. Shown is orginal project's map circa 2015.

But the $4.5 million Arroyo Seco Canyon project was halted in 2015, when two separate activist groups, Spirit of the Sage Council and Project Soliton, led by activist Leona Klippstein, successfully convinced a judge to reject an interim Environmental Impact report (EIR) and Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) filed by the City of Pasadena.

The Arroyo Seco Foundation (ASF), which is currently involved in a lawsuit against LA County to mitigate its current “Big Dig” sediment removal project at Devil’s Gate Dam, had originally received a $3.3 million grant for the project through 2006’s Proposition 84—the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act. The City of Pasadena Water and Power Department had planned to ante up the the remaining $1.2 million.

According to the ASF website, The Arroyo Seco Canyon Project (ASCP) is an “innovative partnership program to improve water resources, habitat, and recreational opportunities in the area between Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena and the Angeles National Forest.

Project benefits would include improving fish passage, increasing local water supply, enhancing water quality, restoring aquatic and riparian habitat, and improving passive recreational opportunities, according to ASF.

Arroyo Seco Foundation Managing Director Tim Brick was unavailable for comment on the proposed Council vote.

Spirit of the Sage Council and Project Soliton had claimed that “significant ecological disruption and possible toxic contamination around the areas could occur” on the lands involved, according to their complaint, the City should have ordered a complete environmental impact report (EIR) on the project.

The activist groups filed a writ of mandamus in which the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered the City of Pasadena to redo a habitat study of the area, and file a new full EIR for the project.

The City, in June 2015, had approved a Conditional Use Permit (“CUP”) and an Initial Study/ Mitigated Negative Declaration (“IS/MND”), required permits for the project.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court ordered the City to invalidate the approval of the CUP and IS/MND for a portion of the project, on March 23, 2017.

The City Council then repealed the approval of the CUP and the IS/MND, in July 2017, for the components of the project found to have been inadequately analyzed under CEQA.

The City must now prepare and certify an EIR, before continuing with the project. The EIR will “analyze the potentially significant effect of the diversion and spreading facilities and the potential impact of increased water diversion from the Arroyo Seco on downstream biological resources,” said the staff report. Enter Dudek.

Pasadena Water and Power (“PWP”) previously submitted a streambed alteration notification to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who advised that the project can be permitted only after obtaining an approved California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) document covering all project elements.

The City Council authorized a contract with Psomas in November 2017 to conduct a habitat impact study on the effect of increased flow diversion in the Arroyo as a separate step preceding the required EIR. According to the City staff report, the work “linked established hydrology and hydraulics with ecology as a basis to determine the ecosystem response to a change in flows.” The study, which was completed in November 2018, concluded that reduced flows associated with the ASCP diversion are not expected to result in any measurable effects on downstream riparian habitat.

With the completion of the habitat impact study has been completed, PWP is proceeding with the required EIR.

The selected firm, Dudek, is “a reputable consulting firm and demonstrated the knowledge and technical expertise to successfully complete the tasks defined in the scope of work.” said the staff report.

The firm has also completed complex and controversial projects, and has a qualified project team with key personnel located in its Pasadena office. The Council will voted on a recommendation award a contract to Dudek for an amount not to exceed $350,000 to prepare the EIR.

Should the EIR contract be approved, a new EIR will be created for approval by the City Council, a process which is expected to last at least a year.

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