River? What River?
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 7-31-2005.
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"You call that a knife? Now, THIS is a knife."
As rivers go, the Santa Clara would be hard-pressed even to make the list as a "river."
Dry or nearly dry for most of the year, it is a river in name only. Most of the water is underground ... deep underground.
This last winter and spring, the Santa Clara was a wild, raging river. So was the creek in Pico Canyon. So were many of the tributaries of the Santa Clara.
I wonder just what washed out of the hills, off the streets, and into the river. At least one mobile home and maybe a car and people, too? We just don't know.
The river has seen a lot more water in times past. I can name the specific time and date: 11:57 p.m. on March 12, 1928. That was when the St. Francis Dam failed, sending an estimated 38,000 acre-feet of water down the course of the river.
Pictures show that as few as two days later, the "river" was nearly dry again. Look for yourself at www.scvhistory.com. Lots of pictures and reports about the river in 1928 are on the Web site.
There is another report about the river and creeks in the SCV, from 1769. Miguel Costanso, an engineer with the expedition of Gaspár de Portolá, wrote that on Aug. 10 of that year:
"We halted at the bank of a stream which, at the time of our arrival, flowed with considerable volume, but, shortly after, dried up with the heat of the sun just as the scouts told us they had noticed on the previous day. This peculiarity we afterward observed in other streams; they flowed by night and became dry by day. All the soil of this canyon is very boggy, treacherous and of a whitish color; the animals sank into it at every step. This canyon was given the name of Santa Clara."
Note that at least he called it a "stream." He also called the SCV a "canyon" and not a valley. Curious. But he was an engineer. What would he know?
Personally, I've been driving in the Santa Clara River, and I've also been on a horse along its course. It got awful dusty. I saw some mud ... dried, of course. I've also been swimming in the irrigation ponds that used to be near the banks of the river. The Newhall Land and Farming Co. had to drill wells near the river to get the water for the ponds. The wells were very deep. I don't remember much "river." "Dry wash" is a much better and more accurate term for the Santa Clara.
Like the Platte River in Nebraska, the Santa Clara is "too wet to plow and too dry to drink." So how did it end up on a list of "endangered rivers?" Simple politics.
Some folks who have a political agenda want to save a river that doesn't really exist. They do it because it gives them, for a short time, the power to stop projects that have been legally approved in accordance with the laws that they themselves helped get passed.
The Sierra Club, the Friends of the Santa Clara River, the out-of-town Center for Biological Diversity and the California Water Impact Network filed a lawsuit in June, alleging the city of Santa Clarita ignored environmental issues when it approved Riverpark, planned by Newhall Land to include 1,089 homes on 700 acres near the center of the city. They claim the laws were "ignored."
The records don't indicate anything was "ignored."
Your elected representatives approved the plan for the new development. They made sure all the reports were done and laws were followed. That is the job they were elected to do.
Unless there is a clear majority of folks in the "Santa Clara Canyon" who believe otherwise and thus agree with the groups that filed the lawsuit the judge in Los Angeles County should throw out the suit.
You didn't elect those clubs and organizations to be your voice. At least that is not what the government looks like on paper. Maybe it has changed since I left California.
Historically, the Santa Clara "River" hasn't changed much in 236 years since the first Spanish expedition crossed the SCV. It is still the same dry wash it always has been. No matter how we try to "save" it, it remains the same.
And if you want to know what a river really looks like, take a drive to Sacramento. Sit in Old Town Sacramento on the banks of the river of the same name.
You call that the Santa Clara a river? No, the Sacramento is a river!
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.