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Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

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Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby Sam Page » Wed Mar 23, 2011 4:33 am

'Tis the season . . .

The DWA owns one square mile of property near the bottom of Mt. San Jacinto's north side, where Falls Creek and Snow Creek reach the desert floor. Specifically, they own section 33.

I knew that. A DWA employee told me that last year. But the other day I was motivated to once again confirm the location of the DWA's property boundary. I had long conversations with knowledgeable people at USFS, BLM, and Riverside County. I pored over obscure property maps provided by BLM and Riverside County. And then I spoke with the DWA's general manager. Here is the conclusion: the DWA only owns section 33 on the north side of Mt. San Jacinto.

In light of the controversy surrounding trespassing on the DWA's property, I strongly encourage climbers to find an alternate route around section 33 -- in fact, there is already a fairly established (albeit longer) alternate that skirts way around the property.

For some insight into the controversy, here is an excerpt of a public letter sent by the Monument Manager of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument on March 11:


"The DWA's property, which includes section 33, Township 3 South, Range 3 East in its entirety, is prominently posted "no trespassing." But hikers regularly trespass on the private property for a view of the falls or to otherwise recreate in the scenic drainage. The following is a message regarding the Desert Water Agency's operation. I hope you will help communicate to hikers through your respective hiking club webpages.

Desert Water Agency operates a surface water supply system from Snow Creek and Falls Creek Canyons, among others. The operational water supply system is sanctioned under permit by the State of California Health Department and is subject to very strict guidelines. Permit guidelines and provisions specify that NO ACCESS TO DWA'S PROPERTY WILL BE ALLOWED IN ANY OF THE DOMESTIC WATERSHEDS. Any access other than that allowed by the DWA is trespassing. Anyone found trespassing on DWA property will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

It is important to understand that trespass by hikers onto DWA's property has resulted in the agency having to occasionally discontinue using this water source for municipal purposes when water samples did not meet standards for human consumption. This temporary suspension of operations has been largely due to hikers having defecated, urinated, and simply caused increased erosion by traversing the property. Suspension of operations, as you may guess, is a very expensive proposition for the DWA. They have to provide water to their customers from other sources when the Snow Creek/Falls Creek operation is shut down."


I won't comment on the letter, but just offer it up as an indication of the seriousness of the trespassing issue.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby The Chief » Wed Mar 23, 2011 3:24 pm

Good post!

Thanks for reminding all of us to be responsible in our actions and behaviors concerning the Private Property Rights of the LM's, regardless how one or we feel about the LM's and their position.

Bottom line, it is their land and they can do as they wish with it.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby ExcitableBoy » Wed Mar 23, 2011 4:02 pm

I'll weigh in. I've worked as a water quality scientist since graduate school. Protecting watersheds, i.e. strictly limiting all human activities, is the single best way to insure high quality, potable surface water. This is not an issue of a big bad organization keeping folks from enjoying the outdoors, it is a matter of protecting one of the most basic necessity for civilization; an adequate supply of potable water.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby surgent » Wed Mar 23, 2011 4:10 pm

I appreciate your well-researched work.

Has the DWA considered placing simple all-weather signs at some of the more popular trespass enter points explaining the reason for such stringent trespass regulations? I have a hunch that most people would gladly comply if they understood the real and well-conceived reasons for the closure of this section of land. If the signs are of the generic type with the usual strong language about prosecution, you know this will just prompt more trespassing.

Remember, most adults are just large kids. Say "No, because I said so", they'll do it anyway. Say "No, because of A, B and C...", they'll appreciate a list of good reasons and hopefully steer clear.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby Carbo » Wed Mar 23, 2011 4:45 pm

In essence the DWA then consider entering any part of the whole drainage as trespassing?
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby Sam Page » Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:21 pm

Carbo wrote:In essence the DWA then consider entering any part of the whole drainage as trespassing?


No. The DWA only owns section 33, which is one square mile.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby Bob Burd » Wed Mar 23, 2011 6:19 pm

Sam Page wrote:
Carbo wrote:In essence the DWA then consider entering any part of the whole drainage as trespassing?


No. The DWA only owns section 33, which is one square mile.


They must own more than just section 33, or at least enforcing it outside that area. Cars parked in section 16 are cited. The majority of climbers that are run off by DWA are found in sections 21 and 28. If the primary purpose is to protect the watershed from human waste, they are missing a huge factor - 10 miles of the PCT switchbacks down the hills in the watershed of the West Fork of Snow Creek. The amount of traffic on the trail swamps the number of climbers in the East Fork. It would be untenable to claim that PCTers pooped less than the climbers or somehow had a lower impact on water quality. Trespassing is still trespassing and the DWA has every right to prosecute folks on their property, but I don't see them with the moral high ground on this one.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby lilbitmo » Wed Mar 23, 2011 6:54 pm

Great post Sam

ExcitableBoy wrote:I'll weigh in. I've worked as a water quality scientist since graduate school. Protecting watersheds, i.e. strictly limiting all human activities, is the single best way to insure high quality, potable surface water. This is not an issue of a big bad organization keeping folks from enjoying the outdoors, it is a matter of protecting one of the most basic necessity for civilization; an adequate supply of potable water.


ExcitableBoy - if you have the time and the inclination, I'd like to get a better education on the actual impact limited contact by humans has on that surface water quality - in other words, if the number of climbers that access a certain area is limited to 50 or less climbers per year, what specifically does it take to lower the quality of that water source to a point where it's an unusable source.

Here's a set of questions

1) Does physical touching of the water - let's say to fill up water bottles cause the water to drop below the standard needed to be safe?

2) How close, how far to the source of the water would one have to urinate/defecate to have that affect the water source? Buried versus leaving it on the surface?

3) Do other "mammals" have the same affect that humans have on the surface water? and do the test and studies show that the difference between one contamination and the other?

4) Are there cost effective ways to treat the water if contamination is detected to temporarily restore the water quality back to the pre-contamination standard?

I, like Sam do not want to disrespect the rights of others(as long as they enforce those rights respectfully and legally), regardless of the "Fun" I may have poked at that agency for their behavior. I have a hard time understanding why they would rather use "Let's say" less than honorable ways to keep climbers out of their one square mile of property(and try to enforce that to the whole watershed), rather than educate the climbing community in the dangers it imposes to other humans if they contaminate the surface water. I don't like the fact that they "generalize" that "every spring" the contamination levels go through the roof when attempting to deter any use of the whole watershed - thus my questions above. It's my best guess that less than 25 climbers went into that area last year (that we know about), so let's say 25 more went in that no one knew about what is the true effect of that?

I personally feel that if they were to make us advocates of their plight and limit the number of climbers into that watershed and help provide a way to dispose of the human waste, that climbers would be self governing, in that, they would help educate other climbers.

The trespassing on the one square mile of property to me is the wrong focus, the water quality is the real issue, if you want to keep that water source safe and you know you cannot stop the climbing community from going back there legally by going outside your property, wouldn't it make more sense to get everyone on your side to help you deter contamination, rather than (as surgent says) "Remember, most adults are just large kids. Say "No, because I said so", they'll do it anyway. Say "No, because of A, B and C...", they'll appreciate a list of good reasons and hopefully steer clear."

I'm not trying to beat a dead horse here, I just think that putting our heads in the sand and pretending like climbers are not going to continue to go back there is silly - I agree 100% with surgent in that you tell someone that they cannot do something, they'll do it twice as much, you tell someone that they can do something with restrictions and give them valid reasons (cause and effect) and they will do a better job of policing themselves.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby The Chief » Wed Mar 23, 2011 7:18 pm

Semantics and opinions aside, do not ponder onto their property in order to gain access to the climb or climb itself. Please.

ACCESS issues are difficult to manage and when the community basically tells any LM or LO to fuck off and does as they wish, it makes the issue that much harder to work through let alone work with in order to make the issue area more accessible in the future.

Please, stay out of the posted property, regardless of where it is or unless you have strict written approval to do so from the LM or LO.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby kevin trieu » Wed Mar 23, 2011 7:39 pm

Bob Burd wrote:
Sam Page wrote:
Carbo wrote:In essence the DWA then consider entering any part of the whole drainage as trespassing?


No. The DWA only owns section 33, which is one square mile.


They must own more than just section 33, or at least enforcing it outside that area. Cars parked in section 16 are cited. The majority of climbers that are run off by DWA are found in sections 21 and 28. If the primary purpose is to protect the watershed from human waste, they are missing a huge factor - 10 miles of the PCT switchbacks down the hills in the watershed of the West Fork of Snow Creek. The amount of traffic on the trail swamps the number of climbers in the East Fork. It would be untenable to claim that PCTers pooped less than the climbers or somehow had a lower impact on water quality. Trespassing is still trespassing and the DWA has every right to prosecute folks on their property, but I don't see them with the moral high ground on this one.


Good points Bob.

Since I know so many involved with the incident on Snow Creek last year and have been following the DWP closely, it seems that they have overstepped their boundaries. What they have done is beyond normal course of business and reasonable behavior of a business entity. They are trying to intimidate the hikers from being anywhere close to the area. Like Bob said, they are confronting/ticketing hikers outside of sections 33. They are acting as thugs and they have the resources (money/lawyers) to intimidate. This is something worth looking into. I'm curious to see if the Access Fund is involved. Climbers/hikers need resources to fight a good fight. Private land cannot be trespassed, but citizens have the right to access their public land.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby ExcitableBoy » Wed Mar 23, 2011 7:55 pm

lilbitmo wrote:
what specifically does it take to lower the quality of that water source to a point where it's an unusable source.


That is a very difficult question to answer. It depends a lot on which parameter(s) exceed the EPA standards, e.g. turbidity, bacteria, protozoans, heavy metals, nutrients, pesticides/herbicides, hydrocarbons, VOCs, BNAs, etc, all of which can have different anthropogenic sources. Without looking at their data I can't even take a guess. A corroding battery just upstream from a monitoring location could theoretically cause a water sample to fail standards.

lilbitmo wrote:
1) Does physical touching of the water - let's say to fill up water bottles cause the water to drop below the standard needed to be safe?


Most likely no.

lilbitmo wrote:2) How close, how far to the source of the water would one have to urinate/defecate to have that affect the water source? Buried versus leaving it on the surface?

It depends upon the substrate, the climate, the topography, etc. The standard rule of burying feces in organic soil is 100 yards from any water source. On the snow one should ALWAYS pack it out. In desert the best method is to smear the feces on a rock and leave it exposed to the elements. The dry climate and intense UV exposure will dry up and sterilize the feces, but I would personally go as far away from any water source as possible. Urine is typically relatively bacteria free, unless one is suffering from a UTI. I flat out don't buy the DWA's assertion that urine is directly responsible for their water quality issues. I also question if they did any analyses demonstrating any possible problems with high bacteria/protozons counts are definitely human or non-human.

lilbitmo wrote:3) Do other "mammals" have the same affect that humans have on the surface water? and do the test and studies show that the difference between one contamination and the other?

Yes and no. All mammals certainly are possible carriers of waterborne pathogens, and many mammals cause soil eroison which increases turbidity in surface waters. In the PNW it is considered good practice to pee on rocks instead of vegetation. Goats, marmots, etc. will dig up the vegetation to get at the salt in the urine. I would guess that humans are the only mammals capable of adding heavy metals, pesticides/herbicides, hydrocarbons, etc to surface waters.

RNA tests can be used to determine if bacterial contamination is from human or other animals. The test is very expensive though. I worked on a study where local residents blamed a CSO (combined sewer overflow) plant on high bacteria counts in Puget Sound near Seattle's Carkeek Park. RNA analysis indicated the neighborhood cat population was responsible.
lilbitmo wrote:4) Are there cost effective ways to treat the water if contamination is detected to temporarily restore the water quality back to the pre-contamination standard?


Again, it depends on the parameter and the source. If the problem is high bacteria, chlorine is considered to be very effective. If the problem is protozoans, not so much at ambient temperatures and stanard contact time. If the problem is heavy metals or some type of chemical contamination, depending on the source the water body may never be suitable for drinking. Erosion, which can increase turbitiy and other parameters, can take years or even decades (in alpine/desert envrionments), of concerted efforts to rehabilitate trameled vegeation. Ultimately, the most cost effective way to ensure good water quality is to protect the watershed.

I hope that helps somewhat.
Last edited by ExcitableBoy on Thu Mar 24, 2011 6:31 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby willytinawin » Wed Mar 23, 2011 7:59 pm

The DWA must consider that one day lightning will strike in the area and burn every last bush off their precious property. It's only a matter of time. Invasive weeds, grasses will eventually transform a large part of soCal into grasslands comprised primarily of noxious invasive weeds and grasses. If you don't believe me, look up "red brome" and "cheatgrass". It's everywhere. And it will have a far greater impact than an occasional hiker taking a bathroom break.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby ExcitableBoy » Wed Mar 23, 2011 8:10 pm

willytinawin wrote:The DWA must consider that one day lightning will strike in the area and burn every last bush off their precious property. It's only a matter of time. Invasive weeds, grasses will eventually transform a large part of soCal into grasslands comprised primarily of noxious invasive weeds and grasses. If you don't believe me, look up "red brome" and "cheatgrass". It's everywhere. And it will have a far greater impact than an occasional hiker taking a bathroom break.


It sounds like you are saying the watershed will be too fucked to use as a water source eventually so we might as fuck it up ourselves sooner than later.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby willytinawin » Wed Mar 23, 2011 8:24 pm

No, but in my opinion those fellas (DWA agents) are making a beach blanket out of some lint. They are using agency resources to hassle a few hikers who are probably not even damaging the watershed as most of them are trying to get past sec. 33 as quickly as possible. The way humans damage watersheds is when they hang out, like camping or living. I bet the houses at the base of Snow Creek are doing far more damage to the aquifier than any thru-hikers ever did.
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Re: Desert Water Agency (DWA) property

Postby lilbitmo » Wed Mar 23, 2011 8:27 pm

ExcitableBoy, that's the exact kind of education that I'm looking for. The key here for me is the DWA taking the time to give us the facts and educating us, not springing traps or harassment.

My post went out before Bob Burds post came through or I might have reponded to that as well. I agree that the focus on the West fork (PCT area) is almost non-existant and nothing is ever said about Whitewater (which has a huge amount of human contact) and yet that source is also used by the Water agency, that is why last year I felt like they were hiding something, when the big hoopla got going then.

Chief - none of the people that I've hiked/climbed with want any part of going on the DWA property what-so-ever after the crazy incident that happen last spring. It's still debatale as to whether they have that one squre mile marked in the appropriate spots to alert the climbers to the corners of the boundaries - if anyone has better info on that I'd like to see it or pictures. I for one have told everyone to go around the property - end of story.

Kevin - I did contact the "Access Fund" and one other last year when the four climbers were being pursued by the agency, the gentleman in question said that he would meet with the local advocate and get back to me - I never received another call and the four climbers asked me to leave it be for now.

I don't agree that we should make the DWA life miserable just because they are going out or their way to harass anyone on and off their one square mile and I do not think that other contaminants are going to ruin that watershed, fire or no fire.
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