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McKeon steps in on Bouquet Canyon water impasse

Lack of water has been an issue for local residents

Posted: May 20, 2014 7:04 p.m.
Updated: May 20, 2014 7:04 p.m.

Chuck Sturkey, operations director at LARC Ranch, stands near a "road closed" sign in Bouquet Canyon where water has been mostly absent.

 

Stakeholders in the ongoing controversy over the Bouquet Canyon water impasse are expected to meet Thursday at the urging of the nation’s top forestry official, said a spokesman for Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon — who kick-started the call to act.

Two weeks ago, McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, met with US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell at Tidwell’s office in Washington where the two discussed ways of overcoming the impasse that has seen dispersed Bouquet Reservoir water reduced to a trickle and has left Bouquet Creek residents high and dry.

“We sent a letter to Tidwell saying that we endorsed the county’s local emergency deposition,” said Morris Thomas, a district director for McKeon. “We didn’t get a reply.

“So, subsequent to that, we made a request to meet with Chief Tidwell who then granted a meeting with the congressman in his office,” he said. “The congressman told him that people are not receiving water and were experiencing issues with hygiene.

“Tidwell was sympathetic and receptive to the problem and indicated he would make the issue a priority,” Thomas said.

The day after the Washington meeting, Tidwell phoned local US Forest Service District Ranger Bob Blunt who has since contacted state and county stakeholders in the issue with the intent on meeting with them to resolve the impasse, Thomas said.

That meeting, scheduled to take place Thursday, is expected to include representatives of the US Forest Service; the Department of Fish and Wildlife; The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works; the United Water Conservation District, which serves Ventura County farmers, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich’s office.

Bob Spencer, spokesman for the county public works department, said of the meeting, “I understand that the Forest Service is planning a meeting in the near future to discuss most if not all of the questions/issues that you raised.”

Linda Purpus, environmental scientist for the United Water Conservation District, updated her group’s assessment of the impasse as: “David Perry of Supervisor Antonovich’ office has taken lead on this project.”

Thomas said he is optimistic.

“We hope to get a full report from the US Forest Service as a result of his inquiries,” he said Tuesday.

The issue in Bouquet Canyon is that water is not being released from the reservoir because of safety concerns about possible flooding of Bouquet Canyon Road due to silt buildup.  

The silt cannot be removed by county workers without permits issued by the US Forest Service under the National Environmental Protection Act.

Los Angeles County declared a local emergency on behalf of Bouquet Canyon residents on Feb. 25. The declaration called for a temporary solution: building gates at the top and the bottom of the canyon so the road can be closed at times, allowing safe release of more water to downstream residents.

That “temporary solution” is proceeding according to plan, said Tony Bell, a spokesman for Antonovich’s office.

“The two gates on Bouquet Canyon Road have been installed since April 10, 2014,” Bell told The Signal.

Emergency measure
In some cases, the impasse has left homes without any water for two months or more.

LARC Ranch, which is located on Bouquet Canyon Road and provides programs for developmentally disabled adults, began trucking in water two weeks ago. The ranch has been forced to import 401,800 gallons of water since Bouquet Creek water slowed to a trickle, said spokesman Tim Whyte.

“They have spent $23,650 so far to truck water in to LARC Ranch,” Whyte told The Signal this week. “And the total amount of water they have had to truck in from March 17 to May 9 is 1,027,200 gallons.”

“LARC Ranch has yet to be made aware of any other significant movement toward resolving the issue,” he added.

But unlike some other areas of California, the water shortage in this part of Saugus isn’t due to the drought. Indirectly, it’s due to a little fish.

Bouquet Creek has become so silted up over the years that any significant volume of water released from the reservoir at the top of the canyon overflows onto Bouquet Canyon Road, making the winding canyon thoroughfare unsafe for motorists.

And the creek has not been subject to cleaning out for years because it is home to the unarmored threespine stickleback, a native fish species classified as endangered under both federal and state law.

On Tuesday, Thomas expressed optimism that there may be some movement on the “fish front” and, specifically, on efforts to address Section 7 of the National Environmental Protection Act dealing with the protection of endangered animals, such as the stickleback.

“Tidwell indicated he would reach out to the (Department of) Fish and Wildlife to find out what their position is with regards to the stickleback,” Thomas said.

“We are still going to have to comply with whatever it is that you have to do with regards to this fish,” he said.

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