By Scott Breeden

New state regulations for Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (septic systems) took effect in May, so canyon septic systems are subject to stricter rules until at least September, when Orange County’s Local Alternative Management Program (LAMP) is expected to be ready.

A LAMP allows agencies to conform to recent health and anti-pollution standards, while tailoring regulations for local conditions. OC Public Works is working on a LAMP and related ordinances to exempt existing functioning septic systems from inspection, replacement and siting requirements (minimum lot size) in the default regulations.

An Inter-Canyon League committee has been reviewing the LAMP. Issues include setback distances, above-ground systems, and cost to homeowners. OWTS information is available at 

Green piece
As part of its zoning code update, Orange County is considering rules for certain types of trees found in the canyons. As currently proposed, a tree preservation ordinance would require replacement of any removed protected tree, or a fee paid into a tree preservation fund. A “protected tree” would mean any native oak (or hybrid), sycamore or black walnut, with a minimum trunk diameter of six to 12 inches. The rare Tecate cypress would be protected, regardless of size.

Exceptions would be allowed for safety, emergencies, and, curiously, any trees in a specific plan area, which would include Silverado, Modjeska and Trabuco Canyons. This surprised some activists who first suggested an ordinance as a way to preserve trees precisely in those areas.

County planners said they wanted to avoid duplicating regulation. Both the Silverado-Modjeska and Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plans include some tree preservation language, but it is not clear if the affected trees would have greater or less protection under the new ordinance.

On May 25, the county planning commission listened to a staff presentation and public comments on the proposed ordinance. One concern of commissioners was the burden on homeowners to identify protected trees and/or pay arborists to oversee compliance. 

Another question was whether a county-wide ordinance made sense, if most of the target trees are in the canyons. A Ladera Ranch representative also wanted to know the implications for homeowners responsible for areas where trees are starting to lift sidewalks. Discussion will continue June 13.

Complete zoning code (including tree ordinance) information is under “Orange is the new green” at  Public comments should be submitted by June 26. OC Public Works will also give a presentation at the next Inter-Canyon League meeting, June 12.

Congressional investigation
Responding to requests from Naturalist For You and others, U.S. Representative Mimi Walters asked the U.S. Forest Service for more information about dam removal on local streams like Silverado Creek. She relayed concerns from constituents about impact to recreation and wildlife, and asked if explosives are necessary at sites accessible to equipment capable of taking down dams.

The USFS had not responded to Rep. Walters’ letter yet.

Concerted efforts
The 2018 Silverado Summer Concert Series kicked off  May 19, with a free concert in Silverado Park.  Midnite Train opened with classic rock hits followed by Road Work, who closed the show.

Seating was picnic-style: blankets and lawn chairs, with dancing in front of the newly refurbished stage. (Reflecting a thrifty use of tax dollars, the asphalt dance floor doubles as a basketball court most of the year.) Some young concertgoers in the playground area, though, seemed more interested in tag than the amplified anthems of their grandparents.

These concerts, now in their 12th season, began with a proposal from Silverado resident Zach Dupre to the Silverado Recreation and Park District. To this day, Dupre lines up all the bands, while others help with refreshments, traffic, cleanup and other chores.  He said it’s an all-volunteer operation—even for the bands. “They’re paid in stickers,” added SMRPD Board Vice President Kevin Topp.

The next concert is Saturday, June 16.  Admission is always free, but attendees are encouraged to bring a can of food for local charity Mary’s Kitchen. The complete concert schedule is at

Respect your elders
Some small, light-green trees along Santiago Canyon Road, especially just south of Irvine Lake, recently sprouted puffs of cream-colored or pale yellow flowers. These are elderberry trees, a native species commonly known as Mexican or blue elderberry.  In coming months, blossoms will become small dark blue berries with a powdery surface. These are edible, but can cause discomfort in quantity, unless cooked.

Although most parts of the plant are toxic, Native Americans used elderberry, or elder, for medicinal and other purposes, including making flutes. The soft, pithy core of small branches is easy to remove, and using dried wood might reduce poison risk.  If an old Indian was making a flute, he’d be a native elder using native elder.


On the OWTS

JUNE 2018