Judge Issues Ruling in Devil's Gate Dam "Big Dig" Project

Published : Thursday, February 16, 2017 | 6:15 AM

A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of most of the County’s Flood Control District’s plan to excavate 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment from Pasadena’s Devil’s Gate Dam — a project that has been met with opposition by local environmental organizations who brought forth a lawsuit over two years ago.

The lawsuit filed filed by the Arroyo Seco Foundation and the Pasadena Audubon Society in 2014 contended the County’s flood management project, dubbed “The Big Dig,” will bring pollution to surrounding communities, death to endangered species and construction of an unnecessary pipeline along the foothills.

The project is temporarily on hold until both sides return to the courtroom in March to revise the county’s Environmental Impact Report before the “Big Dig” can break ground.


See Judge James Chalfant’s decision here

According to a tentative ruling document issued by Presiding Judge James Chalfant, the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) project description is not defective, making the sediment removal a necessity for flood control.

“Today, the court tentatively determined that the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) failed to adopt adequate mitigation efforts for both the destruction of habitat in the basin as well as for air quality,” said Attorney Mitchell Tsai who is representing the Arroyo Seco Foundation and the Pasadena Audubon Society in the lawsuit against the L.A. County Flood District.

However, the tentative ruling states the FEIR’s cumulative impact analysis is deficient as a matter of law.

The plan would allow for the removal of up to 800,000 cubic yards of sediment a year and for a good reason, according to the county.

The Department of Public Works said in a 2014 Devil’s Gate Dam summary report that the currently limited capacity of the reservoir that has accumulated large amounts of sediment in recent years can clog critical drainage valves and become subject to substantial flooding in the event of a 50-year storm.

Should such a storm occur, LA County Public Works estimates that flooding would occur along the portions of the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, South Pasadena, and Los Angeles, impacting approximately 650 parcels and requiring closure of the 110 Freeway from Orange Grove Avenue to the 5 Freeway.

Following the 2009 Station Fire, 1.3 million cubic yards of additional sediment entered Devil’s Gate Reservoir and now the reservoir does not have adequate capacity for a major storm event, according to the report.

“I believe that the County needs to reconsider how it manages sediment in the basin, especially in light of the ongoing river restoration projects in particular the L.A. river restoration and the Arroyo Seco river restoration and that the County has disregarded many other alternatives that have been suggested by the City of Pasadena as well as its own employees that proposed much more environmentally friendly alternatives that achieve its flood control measures,” explained Tsai.

The removal of so much dirt from the dam area would require up to 400 truck trips a day through local neighborhoods, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, during a “season” from April through October, depending on the weather and is estimated to take three to five “seasons” to complete, according to the county.

Concerns of the Big Dig being a part of a bigger issue of L.A. County Flood Control District’s plan to improve capacity of Devil’s Gate Dam by building a 5 mile long pipeline to divert water to Eaton Canyon are leaving activists skeptical of the county’s intentions.

Presiding Judge James Chalfant ruled against the Arroyo Seco Foundation and the Pasadena Audubon Society’s key issue with linking the flood management project with the proposed Eaton Canyon pipeline, which The Arroyo Seco Foundation Director Time Brick explained was a major issue.

According to the tentative ruling, the FEIR does not improperly piecemeal the Project from the Pipeline and its environmental setting description of biological resources is adequate to evaluate the Project’s impacts.

“The project design is adequate,” Chalfant said about the pipeline.

According to Michelle Ouellette, an attorney representing the county, the geographical map where the pipeline would sit is still conceptual.

”We have a variety of other avenues, both regulatory and legal, that we are going to pursue in order to protect Hahamonga to make sure that their devastating program doesn’t move forward the way that they’re planning,” said Tim Brick, Director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation.

This long awaited ruling comes just days after news of Oroville Dam in northern California could suddenly crumble due to and eroding spillway that had potential to threaten the lives of thousands of people by flooding communities downstream, according to the LA Times.

“I think the issue in Oroville illustrates that the flood control engineers aren’t always correct,” said Brick.

The Los Angeles County Flood Control District was created in 1915 after a disastrous LA-area flood took a heavy toll on lives and property. The mission of the District is to “reduce flood risk by providing flood control protection and to conserve water for regional supply,” according to the county.

Chalfant’s ruling requires the L.A. County Flood Control District to revise the Environmental Impact Report which will then need to be reapproved by the Board of Supervisors in order for the project to move forward.

There is currently no set timeline for when the flood management project would begin.


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