Save Hahamongna ... again

Save Hahamongna ... again

Any plan should work with - not against - Hahamongna Watershed Park's natural systems

By Hugh Bowles 05/16/2013

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Development plans for Hahamongna Watershed Park took another blow last month. The city of Pasadena transferred a $1 million state grant slated for a new soccer field in the park to John Muir High School. The new project will repair the girls' softball field at the school and incorporate soccer fields. To parents of Muir students and alumni, this is a welcome step; facilities inequities are a persistent issue at the school. The change came from community opposition. It was also revealed that carving up "one of the last remaining natural open spaces in the region" (the city's own description of Hahamongna in its grant application) was not the intended use of the money. But the ongoing tussle over the city's approach to Hahamongna continues.

I used to work in agriculture and recognize our nihilistic tendencies when dealing with natural processes we bend to our advantage. The Hahamongna Park Plan unveiled in 2003 revealed the worst of those instincts. There was a howl of protest and community opposition that triggered the removal of developments on the east side of the park. On the night of the park plan's approval, the city pulled new playing fields, widened roads and parking lots. The cry "Save Hahamongna," while dismissed as coming from those who want no plan, underpins a sense that the park plan should work with - not against - the natural systems. The city's harvest from Hahamongna is water - 40 percent of its annual needs at a quarter of the price of the remainder purchased from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD). The porous alluvial soil structures in the basin are like a sponge. So why does the Hahamongna Park Plan call for so many projects that smother or compact those structures? The key lies in the city's approach to water conservation itself. Those familiar with the area know there is a relay of ponds at the north end of the basin - officially termed spreading basins. Under a 40-year-old agreement, the city pumps water from the underlying Raymond Basin aquifer based on how much water it can get into those ponds each year. The city does this by diverting the stream. The theory is that removing water from the stream and putting it in ponds replenishes the aquifer. Aside from storm events, the city diverts all stream flow up to 20 cubic feet per second (cfs). The new Arroyo Seco Canyon Project, armed with a $3.2 million grant, aims to increase the city's diversion capacity to 30 cfs. This will allow the city to maximize its pumping capacity under the agreement. The project includes converting the JPL parking lot into more spreading basins. The more water in ponds, the more the city can pump from the aquifer. With the water supply corralled, the remainder of the basin is up for grabs. As one staff member said, "There is a lot of land in Hahamongna." There is no need to nurture the sponge; it can be paved, compacted, filled, and the city can still maximize its water extraction. This all sounds great ... until you read a study by Philip Williams and Associates (PWA), a firm of hydrology consultants commissioned in 2000 to provide input to the park plan. PWA cited an earlier study by Converse Consultants West, which found the spreading basins were by "orders of magnitude" less porous than the nearby soils in the basin - they collect silt and heavy maintenance equipment creates compaction. PWA estimated the natural stream could absorb all the water the city currently diverts before it hits the dam; this is water underground, not in ponds. In addition, evidence suggests the best recharge of the aquifer occurs when the stream flows and water is held behind the dam for short periods. None of this is featured in the city's plans.

The pumping agreement gives the city an incentive to kill the stream in Hahamongna - the deader the better; there is no credit for letting the stream flow. But science, attitudes and the evidence suggest the Raymond Basin Management Board and the city should move out of the 1970s. We are not sure how much of the water contained in the ponds simply evaporates, or if it is wise to build more ponds on top of an area that has absorbed the residue of hundreds of cars per day for the last several decades. The natural systems in the basin appear well equipped to aid the city's water allocation. 

Hahamongna means "fruitful valley, flowing water." We should acknowledge rather than suppress that. n

Hugh Bowles, a resident of Altadena, has been involved with Hahamongna-related issues since 1994. Contact him at


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Thank you, Mr. Bowles.

 [With the water supply corralled, the remainder of the basin is up for grabs. As one staff member said, "There is a lot of land in Hahamongna." ]

This part illustrates that the city and environmental science are not on the same page. We have witnesses to attest that this statement was made by Loren Pluth, the project director for developments in Hahamongna of the City of Pasadena Planning Dept. The remainder of Haha is still seen by these pavement planners of the 1970s as vacant land ripe for CIP (Capital Improvement Projects). Arrogant humans again trying to ignore the wisdom of science! Where is the understanding that the entire greens space is in service to the local ozone balance? View the region from Google Earth and you can see how out of balance we are with all of the freeways, paving, urban development, etc. Who do we have to convince that the whole of Hahamongna needs to be protected? Is there anyone that can persuade the city to look beyond their nose for revenue production and instead look at the value of what we have? When it's gone, it's gone. cough-cough ...and here in the shadow of the nightmare 710 Fwy expansion.

Meanwhile, the mystery is building as to what agency has begun grading a road down from the existing sports field to Berkshire Creek and crossing to the other side all the way to the beginning of the ravine near the dam on the west side. Who dunnit? And why is it so much wider than what could be claimed as normal trail maintenance? 24ft wide is the magic number for a road, not a trail. 

When walking what was a trail not a graded road, one can see how pervasive the thistle is. It is there because this place is under constant siege by the most invasive species there is: Public Works (county and city). Out of balance with pollutants and heavy equipment compaction brings thistle... nature trying to protect itself, trying to say STAY OUT we will prick you with our thorns!

Get the hint: The Pasadena Way needs to align itself more with Nature's Way. 

posted by Princess Haha on 5/21/13 @ 03:16 p.m.

Thank you Hugh Bowles for explaining in an easy to understand way the shortcomings of recent local government plans for Hahamongna. Articles like this help busy or technically challenged people like myself to understand what it at stake: opportunities for developers to do the unthinkable which cannot be undone. We need Hahamongha protected in perpetuity. Development that replaces pristine nature cannot be justified. Thanks also to Princess Haha for her comments.

posted by locality on 5/22/13 @ 05:34 p.m.

Thanks for the comments. I would strongly recommend submitting a public records request to the City of Pasadena to obtain a copy of both the reports mentioned in the study.

The full titles are: Flood Hazard, Sediment Management, and Water Feature Analysis, Hahamongna Watershed Park -- Philip Williams and Associates 2000. And: Hydrogeologic Investigation Devils Gate Water Collection Tunnel -- Converse Consultants West 1995

The City website has a form. The more familiarity with these studies the better. The Williams Study is very readable.


posted by HahaWatch on 5/22/13 @ 08:02 p.m.
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