16 January 2014

Wildfires, Drought and Madrona: A Recipe for Disaster?

UPDATE: 19 January 2014:  Today's Los Angeles Times has an article on the fact that fire crews are usually de-mobilized this time of year because of winter conditions, but that the extreme drought that has stricken the state has led to an increased activation by these personnel because of wildfires that have broken out throughout California.  This doesn't just include the local Colby Fire in Glendora that destroyed five houses and blackened nearly 2,000 acres, but others, including one in normally wet and green Humboldt County that surprised officials in that northwestern coastal county.  Meantime, what did shock firefighters at the Colby blaze was just how quickly the fire spread, mainly because fuels were so heavy there and the terrain was amenable to increasing the speed of the flames.

Further, amidst the "Pacific Decadal Oscillation" condition that is affecting weather in the western U.S., there is this article (click here) that discusses the likelihood of the doubling of extreme El Niño conditions due to climate change.  Climatologists are careful about linking specific weather occurrences to climate change, but it is also worth noting that the type of scenario experienced in our region of the world does correlate with much of what is being stated as part of what can be expected.

With a new Caltrans sign stating that Carbon Canyon is a "hazardous fire area," and the state declaring an extreme drought emergency and the federal Department of Agriculture declaring much of the western states as a disaster area because of drought, the idea of Brea approving 162 water-guzzling houses in a dangerous ridge-top setting with steep canyon surroundings, a prime wildfire location, is just pure folly.

UPDATE:  17 January 2014:  Today, Governor Jerry Brown declared the state of California to be in a water emergency, finally recognizing what has been obvious from all the data regarding Sierra Nevada snowpack, low reservoir levels, and so forth.  Given this official declaration, as well as CalTrans' official declaration, via the sign pictured below, that Carbon Canyon is a "Hazardous Fire Area," it is even more imperative for the City of Brea to recognize the reality before it and uphold the appeal of its Planning Commission's 2008 decision (that being before the massive Freeway Complex Fire and our worsening drought conditions) to end this project and put aside any idea of approving large-scale new housing projects in the Canyon.

Today's Colby Fire in Glendora erupted the same day the Los Angeles Times had a feature article on the front page titled "Cutting Back as Levels Fall" regarding the "concern" that California "is headed for major drought."  While a few reservoirs, like Pyramid Lake and Castaic Lake are at 98% and 87% capacity, respectively, northern ones from Trinity County to Kern County are showing from 18% to 51%, far below so-called "historical averages."  The Sierra Nevada Mountain snowpack is a meager 20% of "normal."  The northern California town of Willits has 100 days of water in reserve.  Admittedly, it's much better down here--the MWD says it has stable water supply to get through 2014 and part of 2015.  But, what about beyond the that should the drought continue?  Sacramento's city manager John Shirey was quoted as saying, "with climate change occurring we have to assume that we could see long-term shortages of water in California.  We just have to change, I think, the mindset here and everywhere--we're going to have less water to rely on."

Today's U.S.A. Today reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has placed portions of eleven western and central states under the status of "primary natural disaster areas and the subheading of the article notes that almost two-thirds of California is under an extreme drought condition, but, then, "extreme drought" is the second worst form of drought--the National Weather Service calls the worst level "exceptional" and the state isn't quite there yet.

Today's local Star-Progress newspaper has a letter to the editor pointing out just how wasteful the water use of the proposed Madrona housing project at the far eastern end of Brea within Carbon Canyon will be--as in 2.5 million gallons of water every ten days, enough to flood the entire Brea Mall site including parking, a total of 76 acres, to a depth of 4 feet.

With this new sign up along eastbound Carbon Canyon Road near Valencia Avenue on the way in to Carbon Canyon, does the idea of building 162 houses on a ridgetop among steep canyon settings have any merit or make any sense?
And, this is all two days after Caltrans placed a new sign on Carbon Canyon Road eastbound and just east of Valencia Avenue, as motorists head for the bottleneck towards the canyon.

The sign reads, "Entering Hazardous Fire Area."  Hazardous.

The idea that the Madrona project, piggybacking on an old, outdated and outmoded Canyon Crest project, thanks to a poorly-crafted legal agreement that the City of Brea signed on to, has any merit, given today's drought conditions, uncertain future water supplies, growing wildfire risks, and other concerns related to traffic, loss of diminishing oak and walnut woodland habitat, is just a delusion.

Next Tuesday, the City of Brea begins hearings on the appeal to the 2008 planning commission approval of Canyon Crest.  Canyon Crest came in to the process under, literally, 20th-century standards and conditions. 

Well, we are well into the 21st-century and with very different standards and changing and volatile conditions.

Why anyone would think building large numbers of homes makes sense in a steep canyon ridgetop with "hazardous fire area" status, guzzling absurd amounts of water, and having only a two-lane highway and an emergency exit through an established neighborhood that also empties onto the same highway--which is often gridlocked with traffic in the mornings and afternoons/evenings--is beyond reasonable understanding.

Will the Brea City Council understand?  Come to the council meeting next Tuesday at 7 p.m. and subsequent meetings that will continue the hearing and see.


Anonymous said...

Are there any proponents of Madrona ? What can possibly be the pros of this housing development?

prs said...

Hello Anonymous, yes, there are proponents, from what I hear, though I don't know any personally. Someone I know spoke to someone who said they were happy to have higher property values. Someone I do know said, with respect to a new development starting now on the Chino Hills side of the canyon, that they look forward to having nicer homes in the area. These appear to be very personal reasons that don't take into account the broader issues (fire risk, traffic, water, loss of vanishing oak and walnut woodland habitat) and etc., that this project represents. Thanks for visiting and let's hope the proponents for this project don't include three of the five members of the Brea City Council.

CanyonNative said...

Tomorrow's hearing is very important. Brea's Council will not vote, but they will look at the audience and check their emails to see which way the wind is blowing. If you value the Canyon, please express yourself courteously, but forcefully.

Believe that citizens can make a difference, both individually and more especially, together.