Earlier this year Mayor Eric Garcetti travelled to Washington, D.C. to garner support and funding for the eventual restoration of the Los Angeles River to a more natural state.
As rivers go, the Los Angeles River is relatively short, encompassing a mere 51 miles. Stretching from the confluence of Arroyo Calabasas and Bell Creek in Canoga Park to the north, the river winds through various communities, meanders along Griffith Park, curves down through the City of Los Angeles and finally empties into the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach. The sandy-bottomed area through the eastern edge of Griffith Park allows foliage to take root and often wildlife other than river fowl has been spotted on these islands in the middle of the river.
For many years, the river was considered nothing more than a giant concrete ditch whose sole purpose was to shift flood-waters away from communities, down the channel and into the ocean. Over the decades, several major floods had impacted communities along the frontage. In 1889 the LA River overflowed its banks and created a mile-wide flood zone affecting communities (including Los Angeles proper) for upwards of six weeks. Following the 1914 flood, plans were put in place to better control the flow of water during rainy seasons. However, these early attempts at controlling Mother Nature ended with the 1934 flood in which a sizable number of properties were destroyed and people killed. Only then did the populace call for stronger measures to help combat river flooding. In 1935, the LA County Flood Control District applied for and received federal (WPA) funding to help tame the river. In 1938, before channelization could be completed, another massive flood occurred, costing over 100 lives and nearly $35 million in property damage. For many years after flood control measures were finally completed, the LA River became known as the LA Ditch.
In 1972, things began to change for the river with the passage of President Richard Nixon’s Clean Water Act. According to environmentalist Joe Linton “This is very important, because navigability is one of the conditions that assures that a river and its tributaries will be protected… that law can be summarized as stating that all our nation’s waters will be swimmable and fishable – which is to say, safe for humans and for wildlife.” In 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act would not protect certain seasonable streams, putting the LA River in jeopardy. However in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency put those concerns to rest by establishing once and for all, the legitimacy of this waterway.
As a new chapter unfolds for the Los Angeles River, hopefully it will create a resurgence for the Los Angeles community as well.