The Los Angeles River

img_46061Breaking news – there is a river in Los Angeles, who knew?

For thousands of years, the Los Angeles river was a large meandering natural river, that was an indispensable source of water and life for inhabitants in the area.

Native Americans began inhabiting the area some 9000 years ago. The pueblo of Los Angeles was established in 1781

From the beginning of time this river was unique, not only in its richness in flora and fauna, but also in its topography.  The problem laid in the fact that the river did not run inside of a natural channel – as most rivers do.

Instead, the river flowed over a wide area of braided channels making its way to the Pacific.  At times, the river flowed like gentle trickle, and other times, it would make its way down like a violent debris laden flood.

Thus began the challenge of man versus the natural world.

In 1913, the LA River was the sole water source for all of Los Angeles.
Southern California’s wetlands and riparian ecosystems were some of the most diverse and productive habitats on the West Coast –  with a myriad of native plant and animal species.   It is estimated that today

80 – 90% historical wetlands lost
90 – 95% California’s Riparian Ecosystem destroyed

Today, the concrete channel you see, was at one point in recent history, a combination of arroyos, swamps, seasonal marshes, meadows, streams, perennial freshwater ponds and creeks.

The river became a critical element in the founding of our grand city.  It gave rise to a thriving farming community growing corn, wheat, and grapes, amongst other things.

As the population of the city began to grow, it naturally occurred over the river’s natural floodplain.

But, with the arrival of the Europeans and the development of the city, change was inevitable.

The lower Los Angeles River was part of one of the largest floodplains in the United States.

In the late 30’s, after numerous catastrophic floods and in an attempt to dominate nature, and succumbing to the pressures of land use population growth urbanization;The US Army Corp of Engineers, claimed one of their largest feats in their history, to channelize this natural beast in concrete.

By 1954 the entire length of the river was channelized.

It took 30 years and 3.5 million barrels of concrete to channelize the river and its tributaries.

When it was completed, it was no longer referred to a river, anymore. but was renamed the Los Angeles River Flood Control Channel.

Historically, much of the water that flowed through the valley seeped into the ground to fill the giant underground aquifer that has supplied water to Los Angeles for over a hundred years.

Today, LA receives only 15% of water supplied by rain in the form of groundwater.

With the Valley being over 60% hard surfaces; rainwater is directed to storm drains that empty directly into the river, which ends up in our oceans, untreated.

Storm water run off is any kind of water that runs off city streets, either from sprinklers, hoses, or rain.  It collects debris, litter, feces and heavy metals from our tires and ends up in our storm drains, and again, into our oceans, contaminating them.

Due to this runoff from dense clusters of industrial and residential activity, our river is contaminated with ammonia, metals, coliform, trash, algae, oil, pesticides, and volatile organics.

The Los Angeles River flows 52 miles through some the most diverse communities in Southern California, just imagine if we were viewed as a riverside community?

During the dry summer months there is little activity that permeates from our encased river, although come winter it can become a river filled with racing waters.

The Los Angeles River has a compelling history and innate natural beauty of which many Angelenos are unaware.

Although only 52 miles long, the L.A. River has a significant drop of 795 feet in elevation.

There are twenty-two dams or diversion structures, and no part of the River remains in a native state; every reach of the river has been altered and engineered.

There are many restoration efforts to bring back the vitality of our river to its natural state.

Just as the destruction of Penn Station has been considered one of America’s historical atrocities, so has the destruction of Los Angeles River.

We are daily reminded of one of man’s miscalculated achievements.

Perhaps, both of these examples can demonstrate how man’s ego can get in the way of preserving both natural and man made wonders.


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