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Water waning in Bouquet Canyon

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has reduced water flow of reservoir, citing safety concern

Posted: February 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Charles Sturkey, director of operations for LARC Ranch, sits in a golf cart next to the 300,000- gallon water tank at the ranch in Bouquet Canyon on Wednesday. Signal photo by Charlie Kaijo.

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Many Bouquet Canyon residents’ wells are literally running dry, a crisis water officials attribute more to the condition of Bouquet Canyon Creek than to the current drought.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which owns and operates the reservoir at the top of the canyon, has reduced the flow over the dam to a mere trickle over concerns for safety, DWP officials say.

But that leaves high and dry those residents who rely on shallow canyon wells, and the problem is spreading down the canyon.

This week officials at LARC Ranch, a county residential community that houses severely disabled individuals in Bouquet Canyon, called on government officials to resolve the growing crisis.

“With the ongoing drought, our water situation has reached crisis levels,” LARC Ranch Executive Director Kathleen Sturkey said in a statement issued Monday. “We, along with the residential well owners of Bouquet Canyon, are asking the government agencies to work together and resolve the problem as quickly as possible.”

LARC Ranch has a 300,000-gallon water tank that is general kept about two-thirds full with water from two wells, ranch Director of Operations Charles Sturkey said Wednesday. “But with current drought conditions, we’re down to one well. The well we are using is running well below capacity.”

Kathleen Sturkey noted LARC Ranch houses 103 residents who depend on the dwindling well water supply.

While many residents believe drought is the cause of reduced water flows from the dam, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials say the concern is that so much of the creek has silted up that when water does flow down the canyon, it floods Bouquet Canyon Road and causes unsafe conditions.

A spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said Wednesday the elected county representative will call for the Board of Supervisors to declare a state of emergency in Bouquet Canyon to address the problem.

“The supervisor will introduce a motion and a proclamation on Feb. 25 declaring a local state of emergency,” said Edel Vizcarra, the supervisor’s planning deputy.

“We have an emergency up there,” Vizcarra said. “Our main concern is getting water to those people.”

The emergency declaration would call for the county to install two gates on Bouquet Canyon Road — one at the top and one at the bottom of the canyon. The gates could be closed periodically, allowing the DWP to release water from the reservoir to replenish the wells without endangering motorists. Road flooding and closure would be the temporary price to pay.

Multiple agencies

Part of the obstacle for solving the canyon water emergency is the number of agencies involved in the situation.

Most of the canyon runs through the Angeles National Forest, so the U.S. Forest Service is involved. The dam was built by the Los Angeles DWP, but it has downstream water obligations, including those to farmers in Ventura County and thus the United Water Conservation District.

The canyon area between the Angeles National Forest and city of Santa Clarita is located is unincorporated county territory.

Michelle Vargas, spokeswoman for Los Angeles Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta, said the DWP asked the Forest Service and county to come up with a solution to the problem.

The long-range solution is to remove the silt from the creek, the parties agree.

“We have all been having discussions and meetings to resolve the issue,” said Sherry Rollman, spokeswoman for the Forest Service.

“Right now DWP has permission to clean up the culverts, but that won’t necessarily resolve the issue,” she said. “It will take all agencies working together.”

Environmental concerns

Further complicating matters is the fact that removing silt and debris from the creek that is causing overflow onto the road could require substantial environmental reviews.

“The big challenge is the environmental permitting,” said Linda Purpus, spokeswoman for United Water Conservation District. “It’s a complex issue.”

“There’s a whole suite of challenges,” she said, citing endangered indigenous plants and wildlife in Bouquet Creek, including the endangered minnow-sized unarmored threespine stickleback fish.

Seeking a long-term solution means working in accordance with federal environmental regulations — a costly and time-consuming prospect, said Antonovich deputy Vizcarra.

“The (reservoir) land is owned by the feds,” he said. “They’ve got to give us permits to go in there. It’s an ominous process that’s very long and expensive. We can’t do anything until the feds say it’s OK.”

Meantime, workers at LARC Ranch are teaching their severely disabled residents to conserve water as much as possible.

“We’ve been able to hold out by completely eliminating our irrigation, cutting back our water usage and pretty well keeping an eye on how much water we’ve used,” said Charles Sturkey.

“So far we’ve been successful. How much longer we’re going to be able to hold out — I have no idea. We can only wait and see what the future holds.”

Signal Staff Writer Charlie Kaijo contributed to this report.
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