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Bypass to Bouquet Canyon water impasse unlikely

Posted: May 30, 2014 7:31 p.m.
Updated: May 30, 2014 7:31 p.m.

There’s no getting around the laws that protect endangered critters such as the unarmored threespine stickleback — even if you’re one of a dozen state, county and local agencies seeking a solution to the water impasse in Bouquet Canyon.

“Key decision makers for almost all of the major participants in this endeavor” met recently at the urging of Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, to solve the water problem in Bouquet Canyon, McKeon spokesman Morris Thomas said.

They included: Supervisor Tom Contreas of the U.S. Forest Service; Elizabeth Seelman from Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials; Los Angeles County representatives including Director of Public Works Patrick DeChellis; and representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

“An air of cooperation to resolve this problem was pervasive,” Thomas said.

However, there was no escaping the reality of the demands laid down in the National Environmental Policy Act.

“It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to bypass the Federal NEPA and (California Environmental Quality Act) process,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. “So a solution will take longer than expected.”

Unlike the rest of California, which is suffering from a record drought, Bouquet Canyon residents are without water because the creek they depend on to deliver it is silted up. When sufficient supplies are released from the reservoir at the top of the canyon, the water flows onto Bouquet Canyon Road, creating hazardous driving conditions.

So the flow has been reduced to a trickle, and downstream water users are going without. Many residents of canyon cabins or downstream homes have little or no water, as does LARC Ranch, a county facility for severely disabled residents.

“They have spent $23,650 so far to truck water in to LARC Ranch,” spokesman Tim Whyte said 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.”

The solution seems as easy as a few skip loaders and a brief road closure. But it’s infinitely more complicated because Bouquet Creek is home to the endangered unarmored threespine stickleback, a tiny native fish protected under both state and federal law.

“We are still going to have to comply with whatever it is that you have to do with regards to this fish,” Thomas summed up the situation even before the high-powered stakeholder meeting.

The complex problem involves the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Angeles National Forest; the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which owns and manages Bouquet Reservoir; Los Angeles County, which manages LARC Ranch and land downstream from the national forest; a water district representing the interests of Ventura County farmers; and state and national wildlife agencies.

At the urging of Antonovich, county supervisors declared the situation a local emergency back in February. They outlined a temporary solution involving brief road closures during which water could be released to downstream users and the road temporarily flooded.

Gates have been erected to shut down Bouquet Canyon Road, but no further action has been taken.

“LARC Ranch has yet to be made aware of any other significant movement toward resolving the issue,” Whyte noted.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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