LOS ANGELES — Representatives from seven Southern California counties met with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District leaders Nov. 30 during the 2023 Seven County Flood-Control Directors Meeting at the Corps’ LA District headquarters in downtown LA.
The group met in a spirit of partnership and open communication to share best practices, updates on regulatory and policy matters related to flood-risk reduction, water conservation, environmental and infrastructure issues, and to discuss the winter weather outlook.
Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties comprise the coalition, along with the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies, or NAFSMA, which serves as the coalition’s coordinator and facilitator.
“For me, the most important thing about this meeting is getting to the know our partners in these seven counties,” said Col. Andrew Baker, Los Angeles District commander. “It’s really a unique problem set that we’re dealing with in the American Southwest, so synchronizing and gaining a shared understanding of the issues we’re all facing is really important. This provided the venue to do that.”
The counties, all of which are members of NAFSMA, have been meeting annually with the LA District for at least the last dozen years, according to Dusty Williams, technical adviser with NAFSMA, an organization in which all seven counties hold membership. When combined, the seven counties area covers more than 43,000 square miles, is home to more than 22 million residents and holds 32 congressional seats.
“It can be a challenge when you’ve got different government agencies — local, state and federal — to make coordination and communication relationships work, and that’s what this has been all about,” said David Fleisch, assistant director with Ventura County Public Works. “We have a lot of good discussion and a lot of technical things we talked about, but at the end of the day, it’s all about who you’re working with and getting to know them, building the trust, building the credibility and building the ability to know whom to call when you need to.”
Williams said it makes sense these seven counties have united for this effort, as they all have similar weather patterns, land-use history, transportation needs and geographic features, which differ from many other parts of the U.S.
The coalition, which was originally formed to help advocate for the region in the wake of national-level policy changes after Hurricane Katrina, has since expanded its scope to discuss all matters related to flood-risk reduction and water resources, such as Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 408 permitting, and how those are applied in Southern California.
“We’ve got that understanding from the Corps that the Southwest is different,” Williams said. “Our flooding is different, our levies are different, everything’s different.
“I think we’ve also helped the Corps’ Los Angeles District get Headquarters to understand what we’re doing,” he added.
A key difference between this interagency meeting and others is that no one is at the meeting to advocate for their own projects, he said. Instead, the group is gathered to look at the bigger picture.
“If Riverside County or San Bernardino County or LA County want to talk about a river or creek, they set up meetings before they come and talk about it,” Williams said. “For this group, you’ll see chief engineers all around the table. These are the department heads and the division leaders. Their mission is to talk about policy more than technical issues — how we do it and what affects most of Southern California.”