Kayaking the Santa Ana River
By Garry Brown
This year has been a celebration of all things water with the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Waterkeepers around the country are reminding everyone of their right to swim, drink and fish in healthy waterways that belong to all of us.
Here in Orange County, we love our sun, sand and ocean. Orange County Coastkeeper’s mission, to protect and preserve the region’s marine habitats and watersheds, requires enforcing the Clean Water Act to make sure our beaches stay open for all to enjoy. But, we have more than just beaches here. Like many other parts of the country, we have a healthy, flowing river—the Santa Ana River—that could potentially be enjoyed by everyone.
The Santa Ana River has tremendous historical significance for this region. From the Native American tribes that once inhabited the lands to the Spanish pueblos and ranchos which gave root to many Orange County cities to the orange groves that dominated the region for many decades, Orange County has depended on this river. After the 1938 flood that devastated the region, the Army Corps of Engineers completed Prado Dam, in 1941 to keep Orange County safe of future threats from the river. Since then, the river bed has mainly been viewed as a flood control channel.
The Santa Ana River is an important supply for recharging the groundwater basin that provides drinking water for most of north and central Orange County. But, the public does not have access to swim or fish in this river. For more than 30 years, the county has made it illegal for the public to recreate in the Santa Ana River. The county ordinance states, “it shall be unlawful for any person to wade, bathe, skin dive, swim, float, launch or occupy any paddleboard, surfboard, kayak, canoe, boat, tube, or similar craft, or any object or device capable of transporting a person on or in any creek, channel, canal, river, ditch, pipe or aqueduct within the jurisdiction and control of the Orange County Flood Control District.”
In order to reintroduce and reconnect Orange County residents to their river, I came up with the idea to run a kayak program on the river. It would be guided and involve having a naturalist speak about the watershed and provide some history about the river. But first, we had to ask permission from the County Board of Supervisors for an exemption to the aforementioned ordinance, which would then allow us to apply for a permit with the County. The permit would grant us access to the river in order to operate the kayak program. Once all was said and done, we received a permit that would last for only seven weeks, in the hottest and driest part of the year. With the help of volunteer guides, and a great network of dedicated paddlers living in the area, we were able to put together two trips on Sept. 9 and Sept. 16 to kayak a two-mile stretch down the river near the area of Featherly Regional Park in Yorba Linda, CA.
Despite the low flow, and lack of whitewater, one of our guides stated, “It was great to not have to drive over three hours to the Kern River in order to get my boat wet.” Having a place to enjoy his sport locally meant a lot to him, and we received a lot of interest from many other local whitewater paddlers. Another couple that got to join us for a trip thanked us for the “amazing day,” and that it was, “so nice to see such beauty in our own backyard.”
It is clear after running these trips that there is a need and desire to have public access made available to the Santa Ana River. Along with Inland Empire Waterkeeper and its Santa Ana River Initiative, we hope to provide unique outdoor places to spend time with family, connect with nature and gather with the community. For now, we will carry on in our mission to show the powers-that-be, that this river is alive, belongs to the residents of Orange County and is more than a flood control channel.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLEAN WATER ACT page for more related news on this topic.
Garry Brown grew up in Orange County and remembers abundant abalone, catching bonito and barracuda from the piers and inside the harbors, and digging for clams in the sand along Newport Beach. Realizing that his sons could not enjoy the same harbors and near shore waters as he had, Garry founded Orange County Coastkeeper in 1999. Orange County Coastkeeper was the 27th Waterkeeper program to be licensed in the U.S. As executive director, Brown has built Coastkeeper into an effective, proactive organization whose mission is to protect and preserve the region’s marine habitats and watersheds through education, advocacy, restoration, research and enforcement.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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