Ripple effects in Rubio Canyon

Hikers upset over canyon’s temporary piping

By Kimm Groshong
Staff Writer Pasadena Star News

ALTADENA — During October’s heavy rains, Mother Nature unveiled five waterfalls that had been buried since 1998 when a pipeline-reconstruction project in Rubio Canyon went terribly wrong. But while she was at it, she damaged that same pipeline.

Now, less than a month after the boulders were pushed aside by the flood, Rubio Canyon Land and Water Association the nonprofit water company that owns the pipeline and provides water to about 3,000 Altadena customers has installed about 800 feet of corrugated polyethylene piping as a temporary fix. Some local hikers are outraged that the Forest Service allowed any form of reconstruction in the canyon without public notice and a community meeting.

“I have to say that I was astounded and shocked … after their history of damage to that canyon, damage to its environmental aspects, damage to its historical legacy,’ said Chris Brennen, a Caltech professor and avid hiker, after he viewed the temporary construction under way.

The original debris pile that buried five waterfalls in the canyon in 1998 was created by contractors working for the water company who tried to stabilize the pipeline high above the canyon floor. The blame for that disaster was never pinpointed to one party, and contractors, the Forest Service, the water company, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and environmentalists have argued about the fate of the canyon ever since.

The district ranger for the Los Angeles River District, Don Cosby, sent a letter dated Nov. 5 to the company providing permission for the temporary pipeline. Included in that letter, Cosby wrote, “No ground disturbance will be permitted or metal object anchored into existing surface rock without prior approval.’

But attorney Paul Ayers says the flood that moved the debris pile downstream has altered the circumstances in the canyon enough to affect the environment and that the company’s special-use permit to operate should be suspended until a full environmental review can be completed. Such a review, under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), would require public input.

The Forest Service holds that the temporary reconstruction falls under “maintenance of an existing water pipe,’ and therefore “does not come under the guidelines of the National Environmental Protection Act,’ said Kathy Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Angeles National Forest. “When bulldozers start to run and rocks are being moved, then NEPA kicks in and that involves public involvement,’ she said.

“The wash-out has changed the whole scene. … This is the time for a community meeting,’ said Don Bremner, chair of the Pasadena chapter of the Sierra Club. The downstream flow of the debris pile during the storm has newly buried a half-mile stretch of the formerly riparian environment beneath 10 to 25 feet of debris, including large boulders. One waterfall in the series of six in the canyon, Maidenhair Falls, which had not been buried as a result of the 1998 project, is now deep within the build-up.

Brennen said he and others like him are worried that history will repeat itself if reconstruction is allowed without public input. “This is the line in the sand as far as I’m concerned,’ he said. Even if it is legal for the company to go ahead with the temporary fix, he said doing so without consulting the public is “totally irresponsible.’

The Rubio Canon Land and Water Association’s attorney, Andrew Turner, said the most important thing to the company is to keep the water flowing to customers.

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