Yesterday morning at 6:30 am, Silverado Canyon residents gathered at the Maple Springs Road gate at the end of Silverado Canyon Road to protest the demolition of four old dams. The US Forest Service (USFS) and Marines are spearheading the project, which calls to remove 81 dams within the Cleveland National Forest between Silverado Canyon, Trabuco Canyon and San Juan Creek. They plan to use C4-grade explosives to eradicate Maple Springs dams, built between the 1940s and the ‘70s.
Residents are upset because it’s possible that a pair of beloved swimming holes will be destroyed as a result of removing the dams. They’re also arguing that the process of using explosives is going to destroy more than what’s necessary, including habitats to threatened species, like Arroyo Toads, as well as the surrounding nature.
“The dams are already deteriorating on their own,” says Joel Robinson, founder of non-profit Naturalist For You. “I don’t understand why they have to use explosives instead of letting nature just take its course. The dams aren’t blocking water anymore any way.”
Cleveland National Forest Rangers and police lined the area by 4:30 a.m. in preparation of protesters. By 7:20, nearly 20 protesters gathered around Daryl Vance, the Cleveland National Forest District Ranger, trying to reason and offer alternatives to blowing up areas of the forest. “The Arroyo toads are endangered species, they don’t just pack up their bags and get out when things like this happen,” said one canyon resident, who showed up to the small protest before going to work. “That is negligence.”
“Why don’t we leave the pools and everything how it is, and take the road out instead?” said Rachel Ulterior, a Silverado Canyon resident of five years.
Vance remained calm while residents presented their arguments and opinions regarding the project. He was also open and willing to hear what everyone had to say. The demonstration became more of a discussion between both sides than a full-on protest. “I didn’t live here five years ago when the initial communication surrounding this project started,” says a guy who called himself Maloof. “A lot of us weren’t, so we didn’t have the opportunity to object. There are ways they could’ve communicated to us.”
According to the Trabuco District Dam Removal Project Environmental Assessment, USFS is moving forward with the project because removing barriers is a key component in restoring stream health and function. It will be “essential to supporting aquatic species and providing a suitable habitat for the potential re-establishment of extirpated species including southern California steelhead trout,” the assessment reads.
Although the trout aren’t in Silverado Canyon and haven’t been in years, the plan is to reintroduce them into the area, with hopes of increasing their population. This project would also eliminate public safety hazards created by these dams and restore natural stream processes.
“Our vision is for this project is for the bigger picture of ecological restoration,” says Vance. “Getting these dams off the landscape is important because they no longer serve a purpose… and they’re kind of a public nuisance. There’s graffiti all over. When you think of going to the national forest you don’t think of seeing ruins of these of these [dams]. Really what we’d like to do is get them off the landscape and restore the habitat in those areas for the critters.”
Although dams aren’t great for nature, the ones at the very end of Silverado Canyon have essentially been incorporated into the natural habitat for animals in the area, like newts and frogs, so removing the dams is likely going to create issues, especially during breeding season. Furthermore, using explosives puts the purity of the watershed at risk, as they’re likely to introduce toxic compounds to the area, which is detrimental to all aspects of nature and human health.
Conversely, the dams don’t prevent flood control and are essentially a failure, as they’ve completely washed out during storms, according to the Environmental Assessment. Vance says letting nature take its course could cause major hazards for everything down stream. From his perspective, letting nature continue to deteriorate the dams creates a potential problems for public and wildlife safety.
But the residents of Silverado want their natural home to be left alone. As one demonstrator explained yesterday, she feels violated that explosives are being used to demolish an area of forest that’s lush and alive.
As a result of yesterday’s demonstration in conjunction with the overwhelming calls and emails by canyon residents, the USFS agreed not to demolish the two dams associated with the swimming holes for now. But USFS still plans to do so. “This is only a postponement, so we need to keep the pressure on,” says Robinson. “Hopefully we’ll be able to convince the USFS to consider more sensitive options.”