Opponents of a project to divert water from the Arroyo Seco for use by the Pasadena Water and Power Department filed an appeal Tuesday challenging the approval by city officials of the project’s environmental analysis earlier this month.
The objection was filed by the Arroyo Seco Foundation (ASF), the Pasadena Audubon Society and three “prominent local residents,” according to a statement issued by the ASF.
A city hearing officer approved the environmental impact report, or EIR, for the project and proposed mitigation measures on Jan. 6. The proposed work would take place at the mouth of the Arroyo Seco, near Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The appeal will bring the issue before the city’s Zoning Appeals Board, “and eventually to the Pasadena City Council,” according to the ASF statement.
“We believe that the issues at stake are of such significance that they should be considered by the City Council as part of a broader review of Pasadena’s water program,” said Tim Brick, ACF managing director and former chair of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).
“Pasadena needs to face up to the serious water crisis that now confronts it,” Brick said.
The concerns raised by project opponents center around fears that “the Hearing Officer failed to consider or respond to some important detrimental aspects of the project based on its impacts on local groundwater levels and on habitat and fish in Hahamongna Watershed Park and the Arroyo Seco,” said the ASF statement.
The PWP has maintained that the project would be positive for the city.
The project calls for the city to exercise its authority to “divert up to 25 cubic feet per second (cfs) of surface water from the Arroyo Seco for direct use or to spread for percolation in spreading basins for groundwater pumping credits from the Raymond Basin,” according to the EIR.
Environmental considerations had been addressed, PWP officials said.
“The Arroyo Seco Canyon Project (ASCP) takes a multi-benefit approach to improving PWP’s water resources by addressing the shortcomings of its existing infrastructure, while also enhancing the natural habitat and the recreational experience for visitors of the local trail system into the Angeles National Forest,” PWP said in a written statement.
Benefits of the project would include improving local water resources, increasing water system reliability, reducing dependence on imported water supplies, allowing for additional “water recharge capacity and rainwater capture,” ensure water equity, save money and allow PWP to treat and remove contaminated urban runoff, according to the statement.
The project, first initiated in 2015, stalled in 2017 after a judge sided with critics of the project who had argued the EIR at the time was insufficient.
Among those challenging the project’s EIR was Ken Kules, described by the ASF as a retired water engineer who spent many years working for the MWD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The Raymond Groundwater Basin is an ‘invisible’ but extremely valuable resource that helps support Pasadena’s vibrant community and economy,” Kules said. “That invisibility masks the fact that much needs to be done to arrest the persistent decline of the groundwater table. The public is being told that the Arroyo Seco Canyon Project will help to do that, but the reality is that it will combine with the effects of climate change to accelerate the decline of the groundwater levels.”
The ASF also said the planned project fails to properly address the negative impacts it would have on fish.
“The long-term health of the Raymond Basin is the biggest water challenge facing Pasadena,” according to Brick. “The basin has declined more than 350 feet over the past 100 years. Pasadena needs to work with the Raymond Basin Management Board to establish a program to stabilize and replenish the groundwater levels for a resilient future.”
The ASF launched an online petition to oppose the Arroyo Seco Canyon Project, available online at arroyoseco.org/pasadenawaterpetition.htm.
More information on the Arroyo Seco Foundation is available on the organization’s website at arroyoseco.org.
The Environmental Impact Report for the Arroyo Seco Canyon Project can be found online at ww5.cityofpasadena.net/water-and-power/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2020/12/Final-EIR_ArroyoSecoAreas2and3_2020_Dec.pdf.