Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When Communities Don't Take Ownership Of Their Rivers Guess Who Does?

Although this is a blog about beavers, specifically in southern California, any talk of beavers naturally lends itself into a very META analysis of water and watersheds in general. This post definitely falls under this banner.

The above is a picture taken underneath the Victoria bridge overpass of the Santa Clara river which straddles the cities of Oxnard and Ventura in Ventura county. Now regardless of your opinion of "graffiti art" - I quite like and would draw a distinct line between this and "graffiti tagging" - I highlight this picture because when communities are cut off from their rivers, or more often than not lawfully forbidden from entering their rivers, guess who takes sole ownership of said rivers? These abandoned rivers become the province of the homeless, the dispossessed, the drug dependent, and the artists who can't find a canvas elsewhere. My point here is not to bash these groups; the path towards addressing these social issues is obviously beyond the scope of this post. But I find a disconnect in many of our communities in that the rivers that should be the jewel of our urban, suburban, or rural communities - usually becomes the last recompense of some of the most marginalized groups in said communities. And that these marginalized groups find haven in rivers, does not speak well too the value many communities places on these rivers, de facto viewing rivers themselves as marginalized pieces of the landscape. And like the marginalized groups inhabiting them, avoiding at all costs to personalize, make contact with, engage with, or hold in high esteem at all. Instead forget, ignore, and marginalize the rivers that houses said groups further.

A relatively too frequent thing happens when I engage people who live in a community about a river that flows through that same community. Usually they do not even know the name of the river I speak of and will something to the effect of, "Oh you mean that thing that floods occasionally that I cross on the 101 freeway? Yeah I usually think of it as a big drainage ditch and don't go down there because there are a lot of dangerous homeless and drug addicts living in it."

And the above sentiment is pretty much par for the course. Apathy no doubt has crept in. But it is not entirely the fault of the person in question. Communities are literally cut off from their rivers by signs legally prohibiting them from entering, by walls, fences, and private property. No wonder the apathy and disinterest when people are not even allowed to get in physical proximity to the rivers in their very own communities. When rivers are outlawed only outlaws live in rivers.

Santa Clara River. Santa Paula. great potential beaver habitat btw
Interestingly a strange thing occurs, at least here in southern California, when a river is restored or revitalized - said revitalization efforts pay a nod to the ecological health of the river, but emphasis is geared more towards making the river a "human playground". Recently the Santa Ana River has received attention for restoration efforts, but in all actuality the "restoration" is nominal, the push is towards making the river navigable for kayaks and rafting. Here is a line lifted directly from the abc news report:

"There is a big push to reclaim the Santa Ana River. It's become overrun with vegetation and rocks, but now a local group is working to clear the waterway for kayaking and rafting."

Video and Link Here. Now let's unpack that statement a bit. They use the word "reclaim", but reclaim for what or better yet for whom? And then the zinger "overrun with vegetation and rocks". Now it would be one thing if they were talking about invasive arundo reed or rocks/concrete dumped by humans. But they are not. Rocks and vegetation are natural and beneficial parts of a river for crying out loud. What they are referring to, if you watch the video or read article, is naturally occurring willow/cottonwood trees that line the river. Good things. Even in restoration efforts we can't seem to stop wanting to control/modify/or usurp rivers for our own purposes. Why do we have to make rivers "playgrounds" for people. Can't we just let a river be a river?

Can we strike a compromise between complete apathy of our watersheds/rivers to total control/augmentation/human mediated use?

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  1. great article. nice to hear someone else digs our gnarly socal watersheds.

    also vegetation and rocks make kayaking way more fun. dumb yuppies.

    one of my favourite lines from a one of those rap songs the darn kids are listening to these days comes from a west coast rapper called Warcloud. His claim: "storm drain marauder who meat markets you artists/ a large scholastic lesson from butcher college ... carry mad knowledge for those who wrestle with concepts, Warcloud: outsiders, wanderers and conquerors. Warriors, angry men, war-mongers, barbarians, holy men, crusaders, face huggers and space truckers."
    At least our neglected watersheds are providing an incubator and a canvas for the evolution of fringe cultures counter to the mainstream... so to speak.

  2. Hey Brian nice to see cross pollinization between my two blogs. Nice lyrics. I never know what I am gonna find when I go down into gullies/rivers (usually trespassing hehe). There is certainly a strong analogy that some of the refuse of society and "the ecosystem" - both literal and figurative - gets flushed down them. Have not found a body yet but I would not be surprised to one day!!