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Arroyo Seco Canyon Project Back Before Council

Published on Monday, July 19, 2021 | 5:00 am

A public hearing on an environmental impact report (EIR) on a controversial project that local preservationists say threatens fish living in a local stream is scheduled to go before the City Council on Monday.

The Pasadena Water and Power Department (PWP) 0is seeking two conditional use permits (CUPs) to repair and replace facilities within the Arroyo Seco Canyon area that were damaged or destroyed by the Station Fire-related events of 2009.

Preservationists say the project threatens trout that are swimming in streams in the area.

“Pasadena has failed to recognize or accommodate the hundreds of Rainbow Trout now present in the Arroyo Seco stream and to alter its proposed facilities and operations to protect them and other aquatic species according to pertinent CA Fish and Game code requirements,” wrote Tim Brick, executive director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, after the negotiations broke down.

The city says damage to the structures has greatly reduced the city’s capacity to divert water from the Arroyo Seco. The proposed improvements would allow for increased utilization of the city’s pre-1914 surface water rights from the Arroyo Seco.

The item was scheduled to be heard last Monday, but was rescheduled after the negotiations fell apart. 

“PWP is committed to improving and enhancing the habitat in the Hahamongna and protecting the groundwater basin,” according to a memo included in Monday’s agenda. “Water supply is of utmost importance to Pasadena. As such, PWP has contracted with leading technical experts in hydrogeology, biology, fisheries, and engineering to provide for the best designs in stormwater capture, fish protection, and enhancement of the environment in the Hahamongna. These efforts have struck the balance and led to the project as currently proposed.”

According to the memo, the utility is collaborating with the Raymond Basin Management Board to propose policies and pursue any additional projects that further protect and enhance the groundwater basin.  

The city wants to increase the amount of water it diverts from the Arroyo Seco to the Raymond Basin by 15%, from 35% to 50%, due to impacts by recent droughts. The droughts, combined with several other factors, including climate change, have contributed to decreasing groundwater levels in the Raymond Basin.

Negotiations between the city and local preservationists over a project in the Arroyo Seco broke down last week. 

Pasadena Now reported last week that in a July 9 email, PWP General Manager Gurcharan S. Bawa, said the utility will not agree to postpone certification of the environmental impact report (EIR) and delay the project.  

“Given our past conversations, PWP does not see a way forward to resolving this matter,” Bawa wrote.

According to Bawa, PWP rejected the group’s demands because any agreement with preservationists might conflict with requirements imposed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to complete the project.

The California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, also requires that an environmental analysis consider the environmental changes created by the proposed project. 

To maintain and increase groundwater levels, the Raymond Basin Management Board (RBMB) initiated a voluntary 30% reduction of groundwater production rights for all pumpers in the Pasadena subarea in 2009.

The preservationists claim trout inhabit the streams there and the work being proposed could destroy the fish.

The presence of native fish in the Arroyo Seco has been a major point of contention during the environmental review process. The Arroyo Seco Foundation and other commenters during the EIR review claimed native fish have been present in the Arroyo Seco for two million years or more.

In local correspondence, residents called on the city not to divert the water.

“Please do not approve plans to divert water from the Arroyo Seco,” wrote Jessica Fisher. “We need to keep our natural wetlands safe and protected for future generations. These natural wetlands do more to protect against climate change than the short term and short sighted plans for diversion.” 

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