Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rain Water Harvesting Infrastructure Design Concepts

Meandering Floodplains provide Real World Biomimetic Blueprints for Infrastructure Designs vrs Engineering Inspireded by Ambitious Human Business Venture Schemes
Image - ourwellnessway.com

The iconic classic movie, Chinatown, makes it abundantly clear that humans have always disrespected designs found in Nature, especially when their wouldview (based on blind faith) believes that such designs are an impedement to their economic business successes. This is certainly true with the history of Los Angeles where business development and growth hinged on aquisition of water, both it's abundance and controling it. LA’s legendary water superintendent William Mulholland was driven towards channeling this water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles. But stealing water from far away north wasn't enough. Vast floodplains in Southern California had potential economic value for both agriculture and the creation of an industrial infrastructure. So the natural meandering physics of flowing water on floodplains had to be tamed and harnessed. Take for example this photograph above  with the meandering switchback pattern of the river. From a politics and businessman perspective, this impedes quick transportation of both people or goods. Logically (from a flawed human perspective) a straight channel direct line would seem to be the obvious choice. Same logic for getting rid of stormwater quickly from cities to prevent flooding, straight channeling seems the better choice. This is evident by all the straight floodcontrol channel infrastructure you can find throughout all of Southern California like the Los Angeles River below. Unfortunately, the path of least resistance hasn't always been the safest or most efficient route for moving human economic goals forward.

Photographed by Lane Barden

Industrial corridor of the Los Angeles River at the Seventh Street bridge in downtown Los Angeles, California

Image - Nature Conservancy - Stream Restoration
In my other post on Beavers and slow water movement, I had a cartoon at the top of the post of a beaver/builder constructung his dam. Other Beavers in the cartoon were on the river bank looking like eco-activists with protest signs demanding to have the dam torn down so that ALL of the river water could be used to irrigate the Pacific Ocean. But that really is no joke, because that is exactly how southern California has mandated it's floodcontrol infrastructure be designed for quick water movement supposedly to prevent flooding and endangering human beings and their businesses. But how well has that really been working for us ??? Often times channeled rivers, especially those in agricultural valleys channeled by earthen levees have been breached on many sides during high flood waters due to exceptional rainfall years. Like the photo here on the right where human modifications to the landscape strongly influences triggers to instability, accelerating the erosion potential and altering sediment transport and flow regimes of channels. Pay close attention to this picture of the Walla Walla River back in December of 1964 which defied human attempts at channelization and re-created it's former meanders, point bars, pools, and riffles. Can you click on the image and count how many right and left breaces there are ? That's just the nature of water and physical natural laws. By their very nature many people not only resent laws by humans, but also disrespect natural laws. These disastrous events are not so much the fault of nature as they are exposure of inept decision making by the elites among humans who believe they are above fault. After all, most of the scientific orthodoxy believes nature is flawed, imperfect and badly designed. (Okay, I won't go there, but you know it's true) In their worldview's paradigm the floodwaters should be managed as a waste product as something that should be gotten out of the system as quickly as possible. And so all floodcontrol infrastructure is really being considered as a greywater infrastructure with it's system of concrete pipes, culverts, channels, etc to facilitate water out of the urban environment as fast as possible to it's final destiny, the oceans. In reality, this is simply gross scientific ignorance where researchers have bought into their flawed worldview. Here's one man who battled the prevailing scientific orthodoxy in Germany & Austria while championing natural designs based on Nature most all of his life.
Institute of ecological Technology
In the early 1920s, Austrian Forester, Viktor Schauberger, also a self taught physicist and river engineer, was given the task of helping an Austrian Prince who became broke after World War I to improve his economy by finding a way to bring valuable virgin Timber down from remote mountain properties he owned which had no easy access. Timber in those days would had to have been hauled out with mule teams on less than ideal narrow roads through rugged country. Viktor Schauberger had a nature based scheme for building a unique log flume for transport which was very unconventional for the times. As with anything, logging flume design then consisted of straight walls and flat bottoms or at best flat bottoms with 'V' shaped design for the sides. But the flow dynamics were horrible. Schauberger's design was to be biomimic designs he had observed in Nature. He went with a half egg shaped design in which the flume would twist here and there like a snake in biomimicry of the meandering habit of a large river on a massive floodplain.
Very crudely designed log flume
Quebec, Canada
As the story was been told, Viktor Schauberger acquired the contract for building the flume caught the attention of the Estate Administrators and the Institute of Hydraulics at the University of Vienna. He was considered an anti-science Luddite by the science orthodoxy of his day. They hated the man. The day before it was due to be commissioned, Viktor decided to make a preliminary test of the flume's performance. An average-sized green beech log was ushered into the mouth of the flume and to his horror it stranded on the bottom after a few metres and would not budge. This wasn't supposed to happen according to he Natural designed flume calculations. Important dignataries, including his mocking critics were all going to be there at the grand celebration. After his workers were sent away to give himself some space to think, Viktor sat on a rock to ponder the situation. As he sat down he felt something scrabbling underneath his leather trousers and sprang up to his feet to find a snake. Grabbing it quickly, he flung it into the log holding basin, which supplied the flume with water and where the logs were to be assembled before being guided into the flume. As he watched it swim to the other side, he wondered how it was able to swim so fast. 

Illustration - giewasser.ch
Then he suddenly became aware of its peculiar serpentine 'S' shaped movement. It appeared like Nature had again came to his aid again. Calling his workers back, he ordered the holding basin to be drained and the log jammed up withing the flume removed. He then gave them instructions on how to attach thin wooden slats to the curved sides of the flume walls, which would act like the rifling in gun-barrels and cause the water to rotate anti-clockwise at left hand bends and clockwise at right hand bends. You can see the illustration blueprints here on the left. Working all through the night with the promise of double wages, the work was finished by early next morning ready for commissioning at the Grand Opening. The pond holding basin for the logs was refilled the next day in preparation for releasing the first logs. His critics were said to be dumbfounded by his unconventional flume design. Eventually the time came for the flume sluice-gates to be opened and the logs guided into the mouth of this half-egg-shaped channel. One particularly large beech log (which they did not want to test) managed to get itself included with the first few logs and, half way into the flume it suddenly jammed and the water began to back up behind it. While everyone there watched with anticipation, all at once with a loud gurgling sound it was sucked forwards and departed round the first bend. The other logs followed, passing easily down the flume, being kept away from the sides at the bends by those longitudinal vortices induced by the rifling slats which they installed the night before. Needless to say, it was a success, but maybe too much of a success. The Prince and his Princess got greedy and clear cut almost all the forest to increase their fortunes. Funny, nothing's changed one iota since the 1920s. Well, that's not true, it's actually worse.


Image - LifinLapland.com - Nellim Log Flume

While the early history of true biomimetics regarding hydrology is interesting, how does any of this benefit the average person today, especially in view of the further degradation of our planet's natural world that has been accelerated through the misuse and abuse of science ??? While there are some who truly believe in biomimicry of Nature, they are still greatly outnumbered by those who would trash Nature through the worldview argument of Nature being badly designed and only intelligent free-thinking humans can fix those flaws through scientific shortcuts. Okay, so change of pace here. There is an organization whose mission is to revitalize the contrete channelized L.A. River bed. who are known as the "Friends of the L.A. River". That's a tough assignment they've given themselves. Even during the lightest rainstorms, the greater L.A. infrastructure is human designed & engineered to rapidly facilitate storm water off the streets, parking areas, rooftops etc and efficiently send it rapidly on it's way down to the Pacific Ocean. This is an incredible waste of valuable freshwater resources. But believe it or not there are viable real world natural solutions to reduce runoff and redirect water into public and private landscapes and possibly percolate much of in into the subsoil layers of the ancient floodplains to be used later as well water. How much depends really on people being interested in change for the better. Below I'll provide a gallery of photos demonstrating how street rainwater harvesting techniques through biomimetics can change the present Hydraulic infrastructure and save disappearing fresh water resources from the outside of the region. Take a look, much of where this is already practiced is from areas with higher rainfall averages than Southern California like up north and back east.
Large City Street Landscaped Medians
Image - svrdesign.com

This is the central California city of Paso Robles, who are successfully positioning themselves at the leading edge of this municipal rainwater harvesting technology which biomimic's nature by the use of "baffles" which creates a switch back motion replicating the meandering pattern in the design & using periodic low dams called weirs (replicates beaver dams on small scale) which deliberately slows & backs up water raising the water level behind the weir in the planting bed that allows a good percentage of water to percolate deeper into deeper subsoil layers. Top photo illustrate what happens during storms and lower photo reveals an attractive look when dry. Utilizing native plants and having knowledge of how to encourage one gallon containerized seedlings to develop deeper root systems would truly help such plants make it without any further water assistence the rest of the year. There could be a minimal irrigation infrastructure of  deep irrigation designs, which would be utilized only in emergency summer situations to supplement and apply water three or four foot below the soil surface where most healthy California native plants want and prefer it. 
Image - svrdesign.com
Here in this picture above you can see the baffles which look to be recycled small guage railway track with a center concrete guide on top of a bed of cobblestones which allows the waters to slow down and remain clean prior to easing into the actual planting beds. Further cobblestones downstream are both functional for keeping soil intact, allowing further percolation and have a decorative purpose that biomimics a dry streambed which are common in California.
Image - hawkinspartners.com

Curb and Gutter Rainwater Harvesting for Landscapes in Business Areas and Residential Main Streets
Image - State Collage Pensylvania

Curb cut-out inlet to rain garden on west side of Allen Street near Pennsylvania State College. Just like a forest with meandering water courses and beaver dams, the goal here would not be to prevent water from reaching the oceans, but slow it way way down and make it work for the benefit of all sorts life along the way down.

Image - State Collage Pennsylvania

This rain garden is demonstrating weir flow during rain event. For those who may not understand what the word "weir" means. The term "weir" is a Dam-like barrier across the horizontal width of a landscape bed that alters the flow characteristics of the water and usually results in a change in the vertical height of the water level. There are many designs of weir, but commonly water flows freely over the top of the weir crest before cascading down to a lower level section of the landscape bed. Again, the purpose here is not to prevent water movement down stream, but rather to slow water movement down and percolation with drainage at the end for major storm runoff.

Image - State Collage Pennsylvania

Now here is the full entire length-wise view of rain garden on west side of this Allen Street. Everything here is functional and decorative all at the same time. The concrete weirs again back the water up in a small pond behind the artificially replicated beaver dam. With a series of weirs, this would also prevent erosion of planting bed materials just the way a series of beavers dams would accomplish on a real life floodplain in the wild.
Residential Neighbourhoods and other low Traffic Side Streets
Image - progress-project.eu


Image - greywateraction.org

Sidewalk bioswale treats street runoff in Portland, Oregon

In cities like San Francisco California and Portland Oregon, their storm drains are connected to their sewer treatment plants, and the potential for hazard for such infrastructure design is that heavy rains cause the sewer plant to overflow with raw and partially treated sewer water into the bay or river. Other cities connect their storm drains to underground creeks, and the polluted oily water runs straight into the bay or nearby river. By cutting curbs and digging sunken basins into the “right-of way” or “parking strip” area of the sidewalk, you can turn street rainwater from a problem into an actual resource. Diverted rainwaer that falls on streets can nourish plants, protect creeks, and contribute to cleaner cities as a result of the planter bed's healthy microbial community taking care of the pollutants & turning them into safer elements.


Image - svrdesign.com

Preventing and reducing water pollution can be as simple as building a rain harvesting curb cut for the garden. Once again, this runoff water from streets can come in contact with various substances to pollute it like chemicals from fertilizer, oil from cars and garbage, etc. Before this polluted water makes its way into storm drains and our riparian ecosystems, we would filter it through a natural rain collecting garden with a strong healthy microbial soil community to digest & process it. Rain gardens can also add to a home’s curb appeal and allow runoff water to filter naturally and deeply down through your yard’s soil. Keep in mind also that many of these structure as also designed with outlets and/or drains into runoff water pipes to allow for those extreme weather downpour events.
Commercial Parking Lot Medians and Dividers
Image - landskapsarkitektur.no

What amazes me with many of the beautifully designed landscape medians in many places like these parking lots is the fact that they exist in mainly higher rainfall areas like the northern & eastern parts of the USA, Canada and Europe, like this example above in Norway. What about Southern California where it is even more needed because they lack water ? Free water that is otherwise facilitated rapidly down the drain so that they basically are forcing themselves to use public utility provided clean drinking water to irrigate their commercial and home landscapes.

Bioswale parking lot created by Lynn Capouya Landscape Architecture

This is the kind of thing that really makes sense. Love the plant selection for the area and keep in mind that mulch is an important part of this bioretention system to really work effectively. Rocks and other smaller cobblestones are perfect for the slowing down of water movement and work perfectly as a mulch to keep the ground cool and retain moisture levels in soils. This is extremely important in parking lots where they create a massive heat islands.

Image - grownative.org
These Natives plants within the planter accompanied by a species abundant microbial community within the soil system are able to filter the runoff and protect streams. They can recycle the pollutants & turn them into nutrients that the plants can use. No stream or river pollution to kill aquatic critters in the water environment. Also runoff volume is greatly reduced (not stopped) which prevents the violent scouring of the natural local creek or riverbeds which allows the system to be stable, much like it was prior to human pavement. I would love to do something like this picture (minus the parking lot) for my mother's property with street curb back in El Cajon California. Unfortunately I'd have to be living back there permanently to maintain it. However having said that, look below at this Walmart parking lot in Santee California. 

Image - Google Earth

Walmart parking lot in Santee California

Last year in May/June 2016, my wife and I went back to my home town area of San Diego California and visited my mother who lives in the El Cajon/Santee area. Ignore the 2017 dates on the Google Earth picture, I just posted this to illustrate how illustrative it is of ir's improper design when they took this parking lot photograph. When we visited this exact parking lot (May 2016), it was 100+ F (40+ C) and I waited in the car while mum and wife went shopping. Half of those trees, irrigated by inefficient bubblers in a tiny planter median were dead or dying because they stopped watering them. Why did they cut back the water ? Because prices out there are outrageous, even when people have cut way back on watering like they were asked to in order to help buffer the shortages create by drought, the Water agency went and raised the water rates big time. Hence, the management decided the landscape was not worth the effort and expense. so the parking is nothing more than functional in purpose. Too bad and every customer who visits fights for that small shady spot for their car because of the effect of direct sun in 100+ degrees pushes inside temps 160+ degrees. 



The Landscape median mechanism designs for Successful Water Harvesting


Image - Empowerhouse
These are just some simplified animated illustrations to help provide an easy way to comprehend the design of the soil system withing the planter. Water enters into the cells through curb cuts and flows to an area planted with native plants (preferably native to the region that are attractive and ornamental looking) & a microbial community system that are known to remediate heavy metals and toxins that vehicles usually leach on to the street, not to mention the totally unnecessary Agro-Chemical products used by commercial & home owner landscapers. The water is filtered through the topsoil where most of the roots are and then into a type of mixed gravel bed which will hold and store the bulk of the floodwater only then to seep slowly back into the subsoil layers and possibly as far as the moist ground water supply which helps to alleviate runoff to local waterways.  Usually this rain water runoff would enter directly into the storm system, where it could lead to an increase in combined Sewer Overflows that contribute significantly to the pollution in our rivers and streams.

(Image courtesy of GeoSyntec Consultants)

Stormwater runoff flows into this type of bioretention area like the other one above, percolates through the soil (which acts as that bio- filter) and eventually drains into the groundwater; some of the water is also absorbed by the plants. Bioretention areas are usually designed to allow ponded water and with an overflow outlet to prevent flooding during larger storm events which are becoming more common. Where soils have low permeability or where faster drainage is desired, designers may incorporate a perforated underdrain that routes to a storm drain system. If you have a soil profile like my mother's place which is built on top of an ancient alluvial floodplain, then such drains may not be necessary. But if you have a clay or adobe type soil profile, then I'd recommend the drainage. 
Nice Video Resources
This video surprisingly comes from the State of California. I say it's a surprise because you cannot see very much in the way of people practicing this water harvesting technique out there, with the exception of the Palm Springs & Coachella Valley areas.
http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/stormfilm


This video below is excellent as it provides a how to for boring a hole through the curb and sidewalk to allow a inlet for stormwater to enter into the landscape strip.



This final link comes from Arizona. Actually it is a separate post I created because Arizona is much further along on this biomimicry and their climate almost mandates such a practice be done over there. And besides I thought it would have cluttered this post up with more info than it already has. 😏
Tucson Arizona: Regenerating Parks & Parkways through Biomimicry of Floodplains


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tucson Arizona: Regenerating Parks & Parkways through Biomimicry of Floodplains

2014 Regenerative Parks and Parkways: Local Harvests and Enhancements in Our Community Commons in Tucson Arizona
presented by Brad Lancaster
What is the story of your own place? What is your role in that story? What is the role of your public land (parks, parkways, rights-of-way) in that story? The Santa Cruz River was still a free flowing Sponge-like Drain in 1904 Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A as you can see in the photo below. This river use to flow year round. The Santa Cruz river in 2007 Tucson has been turned into a dredged out straightener &  deeper channel through Tucson as land was considered too valuable on either side for Cottonwood Forests and Mesquite Bosques which once acted to percolate water into the deeper aquafir like a sponge.
Historically the great floods that would occur every 100 years are now beginning to occur every 10 years. Especially after human development paves over the watershed and increases the rate and volume of stormwater flow running off site. No more percolating through sponge-like riparian woodland ecosystems along a meandering river floodplain. Just massive runoff, destruction and wasteful evaporation. The river only flows with un-natural street flooding runoff.
The long distance from which to transport Colorado river water to Tucson also means higher costs and more energy. We ignore, deplete, or pollute our local waters — then import ever more long distant water away from other peoples which must be acquired and transported from elsewhere. The largest consumer of electricity (and single source producer of carbon) in Arizona is the pumping of this water hundreds of miles from the Colorado River.
The average annual rainfall in Tucson is (280 mm) 11 inches Yet more rain falls on the surface area of Tucson in a year of average rainfall, than the annual consumption of Tucson’s water-utility water Said another way, in you were to divide the average annual precipitation falling on Tucson by its population, then divide again by 365 days a year, and you get. Can you image how much water they could save ?
Harvest and utilize on-site water (rainwater, stormwater, greywater, c ondensate, etc) as close as possible to where it falls within the oasis zone (your yard or public landscape strips) - within 30’ (9 m) of catchment surface. The illustrations below show how water falling on manmade infrastructure can be utilized to eventually created a lush garden around the home with beautiful small trees and shrubs for free and in the process drop the surrounding temperature around the house by 10 degrees. Also take note of the large desert trees on either side of a highway berm with culverts & storm runoff ditches on both sides and compare that to the surrounding wildland vegetation further away. Water is concentrated as it runs off the hard solid pavement into the culverts & ditches which in turn provide ideal habitat for larger desert trees and shrubs. This phenomena of large green strips of desert native tree vegetation within the ditches on both sides of desert highways can be seen and observed on all desert highways across the southwest. Pay close arrention nexxt time you travel through on a desert highway. This also provides a perfect blueprint for narrow landscape curb strips and medians to not only beautify, but also counter these man made heat island effects. Thus far main steam conventional science has rejected biomimicry with only a handful coming on board to the solutions introduced by non-scientists. Why is that ??? 
Below here I've gone on to further illustrate through a Google Earth satellite capture of what most all desert roads look like along side the roadways where what runoff does occur ends up in storms ditches on both sides and the effect of enhancing wild desert tree growth of native Paloverdes, Mesquite, Ironwood, etc. Now look beyond the ditches several meters and there is almost nothing by comparison other than tiny grasses or shrubs here and there and often just bare soil. This should well help you to appreciate the next animated illustration that follows regarding roadside landscape strips with desert city neighbourhoods and commercial Parkways.
Image - Google Earth - Route 60 - south of Vicksburg, Arizona
Below here provides an animated visial of Path to Scarcity Path to Abundance • Turns resources into wastes • Relies on the costly and imported • Consumes more than it produces • Disintegrated Drains • Turns ―wastes‖ into resources • Relies on the free and local • Produces more than it consumes • Integrated Harvests
In Tucson, Arizona, they are receiving on average 11 inches [280 mm] of annual rainfall. Most of tthat no doubt in summer monsoonal downpours. One mile of an average residential street runoff into storm drains is over ONE MILLION GALLONS of rainfall per year. That’s enough water to sustainably irrigate 400 native food trees per mile, or one tree every 25 feet on both sides of the street - irrigated by the street. One has to wonder why Southern California is wasting so much time and energy with inefficiently planned and ineptly designed storm runoff infrastructure ???
Above these residents of an early attempt at cutting street curbs was done on Sundays when inspectors were off for the weekend because it was at one time illegal. Later when they had done other streets and proved how envaluable this concept was in creating shady streets with nothing more than rain runoff as opposed to municipal drinking water sources, they then went to the city to legalize the practice. They convinced them how successful it was and they became incentivized, then it later became mandated in new city road construction and renovation.
In the street animation above, they created cutouts in the curb, evenly spaced to produce a half meandering effect of a floodplain storm runoff in a main river channel which spills water off to the side of a main river channel as is meanders back and forth. Of course the same happens on the other side of the street, so the snake-like 'S' movement is complete. So the animated scene above would be the finished product based on anticipated flow of the stormwater. Blow is the storm event and the hoped for result in filling landscape basins from the curb cut eddys and the added benefit not only of harvesting free precious freah water, but removing more water from the drain on down the line, removing road contaminants and less violent additional flow volumes once collective drains enter the natural desert wash. That being the case there world be less damage done to the environment and money saved in repairs by municipal street & flood channel maintenance departments.
Below here is the before and after photos of the house Brad Lancaster and his brother bought years ago in an older Tucson neighbourhood before they created this water harvest concept. 
All these slide presentation photos and video below are Brad Lancaster's work. I don't need to repost everything, but I want to provide something to illustrate what water harvesting was like in the desert citires in the southwestern communities. California in general doesn't do enough of these types of things and they should. I added the google earth image to further illustrate how the phenomena of landscape growth happens for miles on end in middle of nowhere desert areas and how we can ise biomimicry to replicate this within city limits anywhere. Below is a TedxTucson video which came out this past March 2017. It's only about 19 minutes long, but well worth a watch of the history of water havesting in Tucson as presented by Brad Lancaster. This was a supplement to another post on water harvesting concept in biomimicry of meandering floodplains in Southern California, but it was too much material here to add to that post, which is itself an extension or addition to another larger post in draft.
My main water harvesting Post which directs to this one: 
Rain Water Harvesting Infrastructure Design Concepts


References to Brad Lancaster's organization, websites and Slideshare presentation
https://www.slideshare.net/Tucson-water-harvesting
www.HarvestingRainwater.com
www.DesertHarvesters.org

Monday, May 29, 2017

Santa Lucia Coast Range & Big Sur California: An Environmental Wreck ???

(Part I) While news reports have focussed on Nature, the real spotlight should be aimed at human mismanagement of the region, from the region's land management policies right on down to the average land owner
Image from YouTube

Image - nbclosangeles.com
This iconic image above is of Bixby Creek Bridge along central California's Big Sur Coastline. This region is one of the prettiest gems for which tourists are attracts people to visit California. This bridge is probably the most photographed feature on the Cabrillo Highway (Route 1) in California. But the area has also had a long troubled history infrastructure issues here along this coast highway. During this past year (2016) it has been a tough time to for visiting tourists and even tougher challenge if you are a local permanent resident or business owner. For almost a year they have been isolated completely from the outside world. First, there has been a long period of drought, with this region listed on maps as being far above the rest of the state's "severe" & "extreme" designations to the high rating of "exceptional." As time went on, that extreme designation on the map spread, but has always been exceptionally bad between San Francisco & Santa Barbara in the coastal mountin ranges. Second, there was the  Soberanes Fire (& multiple other fires) which started on July 22nd 2016. On August 2, officials announced that their investigation found that the fire had been caused by an unattended illegal campfire. While no suspect was identified, Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo said that, if an arrest were made, the culprit could be charged with negligence and manslaughter. Yeah that's right, someone died. And finally third, after 5 years of intense exceptional drought, this past 2016/17 record rainy season brought the mud and landslides. Bridges gone, roads collapsed and massive slides of whole mountainsides coming down obliterating everything in it's path. Now while Nature certainly played a role, it's often the lack of foresight in planning and critical mistakes in decision making during the crisis which exacerbate these problems which has a domino effect later on. In this particular post (Part I), I'll mainly focuss on the Soberanes Fire & human error.

Image by Stan Russell - The Big Sur Blog

Looking north from Soberanes Point about 10:30 PM, 7/23/16
Working its way down steep canyons towards Highway 1

This fire at it's very beginning blitzed through an area I had first discovered back in 1985 called Palo Colorado Canyon north of Big Sur which is well hidden from most outside tourists unfamiliar to the region. Locals know exactly where this area is. This place was a beautiful hidden paradise when I first found it back in 1985, but it's mostly gone today. My second trip there in 2014 which you can read from the link above, I also wrote about an amazing phenomena from this region where streams and rivers still ran even after years of exceptional drought. The question was why ? Especially since I did point out the numerous dead trees I saw first hand back up in that canyon in 2014. In 1985 there were no dead trees. But there are a combination of two natural components that allow streams and rivers to flow here even without normal winter rains & absence of summer monsoonal rains that the interior part of the state experiences and that would be Hydraulic Descent & Fog Preciptiation which is the very reason water sources are so dependable here. But human error changed all that. Here is a blog account and discussion by locals in the Big Sur area about the problem of illegal campfires on June 30th 2016 just a couple of weeks before the July 22nd 2016 Soberanes Fire. 
Xasauan Today Blog - Because Nature Bats Last

Image - Xasauan Today Blogger
The Campfire Conundrum 
"On a Sunday walk along the Pine Ridge Trail during Level IV fire restrictions in 2013, we looked at dozens of fire rings and couldn’t find a single one that hadn’t been used the night before."   
"Level III fire restrictions are currently in effect in the Los Padres National Forest. This means that all wood and charcoal fires are completely prohibited outside of a few designated Campfire Use sites (in designated car campgrounds). Smoking and recreational target shooting are similarly restricted. Lanterns and stoves may only be used with a Campfire Permit."   
"This isn’t a secret. Signs informing the public that campfires are prohibited abound. In spite of this, and in spite of the fact that fire danger is obviously quite high, campers light dozens of fires along Big Sur’s backroads and trails every single night."  
"What gives?  My guess is that it’s a function of the same human failing that prevents us, in so many contexts, from seeing how seemingly harmless individual behavior can have a devastating cumulative effect. The campfire builder likely perceives, correctly, that there is little chance that his or her fire will be the one to cause a conflagration. After all, it’s probably fewer than one in a thousand illegal campfires that becomes a wildfire. To these campers, the suggestion that they are endangering life, property and forest resources seems uptight and exaggerated."
Follow the rest of the story and comments section discussion about the potential for disaster (HERE) and keep in mind that three weeks later that devastating Soberanes wildfire started and burned for four months from July 22nd thru October 28th when it was declared 100% contained with only some hotspots still to be dealt with in the fire perimeter. But this wasn't the only damage done to the area. Despite heroic efforts by firefighters, much damaged was done by the Bull Dozer construction of Fire or Fuel Breaks along almost every major ridge, even some impossible access areas on the edge  of wilderness. And these were not just one or two bulldozer blades wide fire breaks, these were often 5 or 6 blades wide or more. Admittedly this is a tough wild extremely steep rugged impossible canyon terrain. But the problems they created in attempting to stop the wildfire will be with this area for a long time to come.

Image - Big Sur Kate Blog

Well, you can google more Bull Dozer fuel break cutting work on the Soberanes Firelines and many more done far away from the actual firelines in anticipation of the fire breaking out and making big runs which quite often did happened. There were so many big equipment companies called to fight this fire that the region in some places looked like an all out war preparation by a German Army Panzer Division. Maps at the time showed an extensive networks of bull dozed fireline roads everywhere which seriously did look like Battle Plan maps and I suppose they really were. But the real damage here was to the underground mycorrhizal grid and infrastructure of both native tree and chaparral root systems which took centuries for this part of the natural world to construct. An Absence of the mycorrhizal grid will be a major invite over the next few years for non-native noxious weeds to grab a foothold which will eventually become permanent residents into this once pristine untouched landscape.


Image - Cal Fire San Benito-Monterey Unit

Crews work on putting in control lines for the Soberanes Fire
 near Big Sur, California in this August 4, 2016


 (Vern Fisher - Monterey Herald)

Bulldozers work on a fire break in the Rancho San Carlos area
 of Carmel Valley while fighting the 23,568 acre Soberanes Fire
 on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 just five days after the fire began


(Vern Fisher - Monterey Herald)

A private contractor dozer operator works a fire line
 west of Cachagua in August 2016

 (David Royal - Monterey Herald)

Panzer Divisions Dozer Crews cut a containment line on
Daniel’s Ridge east of the Old Coast Road as firefighters
battle the Soberanes Fire in Big Sur

Photo from CAL FIRE

The dozer that rolled over on the Soberanes Fire in 2016,
killing Robert Reagan
"Both a private contractor and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) were issued citations by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) related to a fatality when a dozer rolled over. Robert Reagan, 35, of Friant, California, was killed while fighting the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California July 26, 2016."   
"Minutes after Mr. Reagan began operating the piece of equipment for Czirban Concrete Construction on contract to CAL FIRE, it rolled over. Not wearing a seat belt, he was thrown from the cab and was killed when the dozer rolled onto him."
(Source; wildfiretoday.com)

Sadly the Army of bull dozer operators used to stop this wildfire and save property owner dwellings not only took it's toll on the environment, but also one bull dozer operator's life. Often times and especially in terrain like this, many firefighters are asked to do impossible tasks at the risk of their very lives. I've previously written about and voiced my opinion about firefighters having to risk their lives for people who have built buildings on property with impossible death trap access. The image below I watched on television Live in May 2014 where wildfire in San Marcos, California in 2014 which moved towards one hilltop Mansion which was surrounded by more than a dozen giant dead Aleppo Pine trees in the homeowner's landscape. Nobody should be made to risk life and save that and homeowners who choose such locations should accept the inevitable. You can read that post below here:


Image - NBC San Diego
Should Firefighters be expected to save Homes which are located in fire trap geography and where the owner cared less about landscape hygiene ?

After any Wildfire the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) assessment would have conducted a survry and an implementation clean-up & repair work would be on-going for perhaps months. 
Inciweb.com

Excavator moving previously cut vegetation to cover fireline.

inciweb.com

Excave placing vegetation material on fireline

Inciweb.com

Working on suppression repair

Inciweb.com

Brush and cut vegetation from suppression repair work.

After it's all said and done, this is the result of clean-up repairs. Areas where the wildfire were untouched are repaired from a human eye-candy appeal point of view where brush is placed on top of the fuel break scar to hide it and provide some measure of runoff control with the next seasons winter rains. What they don't tell you and probably most of them are ignorant of or if the know, view it as trivial, the mycorrhizal fungal network grid which previously supported native chaparral and trees has been erased and obliterated under the ground. The scar is now ripe for take over by non-native invasive annual grasses and other noxious weeds which were generally kept in check by the former fungal network, but now that this has been removed, a bacterial soil system has replaced it and this scenario is what annual weeds will thrive under. Some scars will be left untouched like this once below from the Sherpa Fire. It will be viewed now as a strategic fuel break for fighting future wildfires. But given some months it could later look like older historical fuel breaks which are densely weed infested and will move future wildfires along more rapidly. Like this one below in Southern California.



Inciweb.com

West Camino Cielo Fuel Break, Los Padres National Forest


Image - Chaparral Institute

Trabuco Ranger District of the Cleveland National Forest
fuel break along the ridgeline of the Santa Ana Mountains

Other victims in nature weren't so lucky to escape. An irreplacable world record Pacific Madrone is gone forever 

Photo: California Department Of Fish And Wildlife


Image - Mine 2014

Pacific Madrone
(Arbutus menziesii)
The largest madrone tree in the United States in 2007 (left) and in 2016 (right). The tree, located in Joshua Creek Canyon Ecological Reserve in Monterey County, was severely burned in the Soberanes Fire. A giant in Big Sur registered as the largest of its kind in the nation appears to be a casualty of the devastating wildfire. Madrones really have no defenses against wildfire other than resprouting from the trunk base after being burned up. They have a very thin bark much like that of a Manzanita. Even when they get older and have the characteristic rugged bark like the old growth one above, they are no match for a wildfire. Most likely in youth this one above was burned and resprouted from the truck. This is proven by the fact is has multiple trunks. I've photographed young Madrones in Palo Colorado Canyon and they will start out as a single trunked tree. Much like the one on the right that I photographed in 2014. But once burned, that single trunk Madrone becomes a multi-trunk resprout from it's stump's base. Sadly though this time around, the Soberanes fire was just too hot and appears to have burned down deep into the rootsystem and surrounding soil.


Image - Dr Aljos Farjon

Santa Lucia Fir (Abies bracteata)
The other potential for wildfire victim here is the highly restricted habitat belonging to the Santa Lucia Fir or Bristlecone Fir (Abies bracteata) which is endemic to the central California Coast Ranges. Many of the largest known pocket woodlands of Santa Lucia Fir at various locations (particularly Ventana Wilderness) were effected by both wildfire and Forest Service backfires. But even still at this time there has not been a lot of assessment on the conditions or status of this Santa Lucia Fir in some of the remote regions. Perhaps this year will change that. The other danger for all plants which endure an extreme or rather in this case "exceptional" drought designation for four or five years is at the end of that period trees will have produced less seed/cones (offensive strategy) as opposed to putting all it's resources into survival mode (defensive strategy) for the adult tree itself, so that when a fire does come along and wipes a forest out, there is very little release of seed resources to counter the damage caused by the catastrophic event. This goes with every tree and shrub caught in the middle of massive unprecedented drought followed by wldfire. Change could be permanent and sometime irreversible. So time will tell. This particular tree has been hit hard by previous fires in the past, but again we will have to wait and see. 
Some Local Blogger References for Central California which are far better than Main Stream Media Outlets
Big Sur Kate's Blog: Big Sur News & Events – Road Conditions & Fires
Xasauan Today Blog - Because Nature Bats Last
And what about the next big bit of bad news ??? 
And Finally the Rains Came and Deluged all of Californnia!
ABC 10 News January 2017

I won't spend any time on this portion of the ongoing disaster to this region. That will be in my second post. I mainly focussed here on Nature and what has taken place, although it has to be acknowledged that many many homes and commercial buildings were lost which devastated the human population here. But the misery and inconvenience continue and it's still not over. But maybe there is some good news as far as infrastructure repair if anyone out there is paying close attention. Stay Tuned!