March 19, 2012
Flowing some 51 miles through Los Angeles city sprawl, the course of the Los Angeles River cut an ever changing path from the San Fernando Valley to its mouth in Long Beach. In early years, the natural flow of the river played an important role in the settling of the Los Angeles area. The river provided water and nutrient rich soils to a growing farming community, and people began to develop the floodplain area. However, devastating and deadly flooding in 1914 and the 1930s prompted the channelization of the river; the United States Army Corps of Engineers soon encased the river in concrete; altering the natural flow, and functions of the river (FOLAR 1). Since then, the concrete river has often been referred to as a “stain” and an “eye-sore” to the city of Los Angeles.
Recently, after years of neglect, focus has turned to revitalizing the river and its surrounding environment. Various nonprofit organizations, and environmental groups, emerged to advocate for the river’s restoration, and in 2007, the city approved the “Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan”. The plan specifically targets a 32-mile stretch of the river, and outlines the removal of concrete where feasible, along with the creation of open-space, parks, residential, and business areas along revitalized riverbanks (Hymon 1).
Although restoring the river to its true natural state is impossible due to developments in areas of the rivers natural flow, the loss of natural vegetation, and the loss of native wildlife, the revitalization plan brings new hope to the area. The plan will significantly increase the aesthetic appeal of the area, and the economic benefit from a restored river is expected to be great. The city believes a renewed river has vast potential for recreation, open space, and greener communities. Lush riverbanks are envisioned to attract residents and business centers to the area. Numerous bike paths, pedestrian bridges, and waterways will connect a network of public parks along the river; promoting all sorts of recreational activities.
In addition to improved aesthetics, and the associated opportunities, revitalization brings environmental benefits as well. Removing concrete will improve nutrient recycling, create habitats for wildlife and vegetation, and recharge aquifers. Returning the river to a more natural state will hopefully create a healthy and thriving ecosystem; all the while retaining flood control. The plan outlines flood prevention as a priority and considers the use of detention areas, channel expansion, and watershed prevention practices as possible ways to ensure retention of the flood control benefit from channelization.
Many people are expected to benefit from this revitalization. Over one million people live near the river, along with over 35,000 businesses, and 80 plus schools that are in close proximity to the river (City of Los Angeles 1). Revitalizing the river means revitalization for many neighboring areas and communities. The goals are to create a more aesthetically appealing environment, try to “green” the community, and improve the overall quality of life of Los Angeles residents.
The LA River plan also targets many region wide problems, such as trash and contaminated runoff, and is designed to work in conjunction with other projects meant to improve the quality of the LA river watershed.
Those in opposition of the plan argue the plan is too ambitious, costly, and that money would be better spent elsewhere (Hymon 1). However, ambition has helped to spark public interest and the recreational, economic, aesthetic, and environmental benefits justify the costs. Revitalization means turning the once “stain” of LA to a beautiful and thriving river that someday everyone will be able to enjoy.
“City of Los Angeles :: Los Angeles River Revitalization.” City of Los Angeles River
Revitalization. City of Los Angeles. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <http://lariver.org/index.htm>.
Hymon, Steve. “L.A. Will Take Its River to a New Level.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles
Times, 02 Feb. 2007. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <http://articles.latimes.com/2007/feb/02/local/me-riverplan2>.
“Los Angeles River | LAMountains.com.” LAMountains.com. Santa Monica Mountains
Conservancy. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <http://www.lamountains.com/involved_river.asp>.
“River History.” Friends of the Los Angeles River. FOLAR. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.
Katie Peters and Casey Frost are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
October 11, 2011
Before the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Los Angeles River was the primary source of drinking water to every inhabitant of the LA Basin. However, due to intense flooding in the 1930s, the Army Corps of Engineers erected what became a mortar grave for a once thriving ecosystem.
The LA River is a conundrum in every sense in the word. The city depends on water for its lifeblood, but the channelization of the river was done with the objective of ridding the city of its rainwater as quickly as possible. This was done as a means of flood protection; however it left only a dusty memory of the pristine ecosystem it once was. Los Angeles suddenly became dependent on the LA Aqueduct for its drinking supply, a move that would enable Los Angeles to expand into what it has now.
In recent years, the problem of the LA water supply has been exacerbated by severe drought. In an attempt to restore the natural ecosystem whilst understanding utilitarian needs, multiple agencies in Los Angeles, such as Friends of the Los Angeles River, the Ad Hoc Committee, and the LA DWP, have proposed a “restoration” of the LA river, including a removal of the concrete river bed where possible, and the construction of parks and housing around the river.
In order for the restoration to be successful, Los Angeles must clearly define what they hope to accomplish by restoring the river. Knowing exactly what the river was like pre-1930s is a daunting task. Many of the species that once inhabited the river, such as grizzly bears and beavers no longer reside in Los Angeles. In addition, the river’s course has already been so altered by years of channelization that plotting its original course would interfere with infrastructure that is already present in the mega-city of LA. Therefore, restoring the LA River to its natural state would be an unfeasible task. For this reason the aim of the proposed plan is not necessarily to restore, but rather to rehabilitate the existing ecosystem and the surrounding LA community. The goals of the project are to revitalize the river, “green” the neighborhoods, capture community opportunities, and create value.
Revitalizing the river would reduce our dependence on imported water, improve nutrient recycling within the LA River, reduce run-off pollution into the ocean, and improve the aesthetic properties of the river. Los Angeles is a city lacking in parks, but implementing this plan creates green environments available for all Angelenos to use and enjoy. A rehabilitated LA River would improve the quality of life of residents in Los Angeles by removing a stain on the city and replacing it with a beautiful environment, not to mention the public health benefits associated with this project, such as greater nutrient recycling within the river ecosystem.
As plans lie right now, the restored river would flow year-round. This is done because the river is fed by tertiary treated water from the Tillman Sewage Treatment Plant. However, this is far from natural. In an ideally restored river, the treated water should be injected into an underground aquifer where it can be recharged, and instead let the river capture a natural supply of water.
Critics say that revitalizing the LA River would be too costly, and that expenses are best spent developing neighborhoods in poverty. However, the costs associated with restoring the river are justified, as this would create a safe recreational area able to be used by all. The river flows through every part of Los Angeles, and every Angeleno should be able to enjoy its benefits.
About the authors: Adam Grosher and Connor Jackson are working towards their bachelor degrees in Environmental Studies in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
October 10, 2011
Throughout the early 1990’s, the Los Angeles River was named one of the United States most endangered rivers. The Los Angeles River, which begins in the San Fernando Valley, is 51 miles in length and flows into the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach. The Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP) proposes the restoration of the 32 miles of river that flows through the City of Los Angeles. The LARRMP, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1996, aims to outline a series of projects that will improve access, recreational value, water quality treatment, and ecological stability of the river. Although some parts of the plan, such as water treatment, are important for human and environmental reasons, the plan is too ambiguous, costly, and ambitious.
Due to Los Angeles’s desert climate, it would be unnecessary to implement many of the proposed projects, such as increased open space for parks and vegetation. The plan does not address where additional water to support these projects would come from, so it may require water from other sources to be diverted into the Los Angeles River, which would risk harming the biodiversity surrounding those outside sources. Also, river flow is very limited in some parts of its course, and even runs dry during some parts of the year.
The LARRMP, “which itself cost $3 million — calls for spending as much as $2 billion over the next half century” to implement. But even considering these high costs, the Ad Hoc Committee has only been able to secure $3 million in funding from the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In addition to this initial cost estimate, the project is bound to require even more money for other necessary components once the project is finished. These other components could include constantly monitoring water quality and maintaining parks. In order for the river to be a constant source of recreation for humans, the water must continually be scrupulously monitored and treated. This will cost more money, and funding is not necessarily secured yet. Considering the current economic crisis that California faces today, it is highly unlikely that the LA River Project will be considered a top priority because it does not provide the state and county with immediate benefits.
Furthermore, certain parts of this plan pose potential human health risks. The LA Times states, “the city also faces the challenge of improving the quality of the water. In summer, the river is a steady flow of mostly treated wastewater and runoff from lawn sprinklers,” revealing the poor condition of the river’s water. Today, very few people come in contact with most of the river. In fact, many stretches are fenced off. The new vision for the river is to have greater human interaction with the water (notice the children playing in the water in the imaginary scenario), and if the water were improperly cleaned, it would pose significant health risks.
It is highly likely that the river will eventually become contaminated and polluted over time due to the region’s large human population and industrial activity, thus trying to clean the river up now is unnecessary.
Within this master plan there are over 200 side projects that will require a large amount of local stewardship, time, resources, policy, and money. We believe that only the most essential parts should be carried out. Specifically, wastewater treatment is fundamental to maintaining the integrity of the river, but converting the riverbanks into a place for children to play is both impractical and unnecessary. While many of these projects in the plan address very important issues regarding the river, the City of Los Angeles should focus its efforts on developing and implementing the most crucial aspects of the plan, instead of the many frivolous and overly-ambitious details.
About the authors: Alyssa Dykman and Emily Lu are working towards their bachelor degrees in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Fertilizer is a vital component of both modern and ancient agriculture, its benefits ranging from increased soil health to increased agricultural productivity. Unfortunately because of its high nutrient content, which includes nitrogen and phosphorus, fertilizer can negatively affect water quality. Although nitrogen and phosphorous are both vital nutrient components of soil that promote soil health and plant growth, they can have drastic polluting effects when they are leached out of soil and carried off by water. The EPA cites agricultural runoff as the leading source of impairment to surveyed rivers and lakes. Because it is considered a nonpoint source (link to: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/whatis.cfm) of water pollution, managing agricultural runoff is one of the greatest challenges posed to water quality.
The effects of agricultural runoff on water quality varies from nitrate pollution in groundwater as it percolates down from soils, to eutrophication of freshwater and coastal ecosystems, which greatly threatens both biodiversity and ecosystem services. Eutrophication is rated by the EPA as “the most widespread water quality problem in the United States” (Plaster 339). Algal blooms resulting from nutrient abundance (of phosphorous in freshwater ecosystems and nitrogen in coastal ecosystems) can greatly affect the entire food web in a given ecosystem, as their decomposition consumes the dissolved oxygen in the water and creates a hypoxic zone. Once the water is hypoxic, there is not enough dissolved oxygen to sustain most forms of life. The ecosystem is further altered and biodiversity is further threatened as turbidity increases (due to the dead matter from the algal blooms clouding the water). Areas like this in the United States and around the world are known as dead zones.
A dramatic example of one such dead zone is the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, which was caused in a large part by agricultural runoff is in the Mississippi River watershed. The USGS describes the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone as “an area of approximately 6,000-7,000 square miles of water with oxygen levels below 2 parts per million.” Nutrient-enriched waters, resulting from runoff in the Mississippi River Delta, made their way into the Gulf of Mexico and caused the subsequent eutrophication which is responsible for the area’s current hypoxic state. Now these areas of the Gulf of Mexico support fewer organisms, which poses a threat to both biodiversity and local fisheries.
Though the challenges of managing pollution from agricultural runoff are numerous and complicated, by following a series of Best Management Practices individuals and the agriculture industry can limit their impact on the environment, while still maintaining healthy and productive soils (Plaster 342). Practices such as conservation tillage, efficient irrigation, proper management of livestock and their manure, and many other sustainable agricultural practices can help reduce agricultural runoff. Also, improving fertilization practices and applications can reduce excess fertilizer and thus nutrient pollution from agricultural runoff.
In addition to changing our agricultural practices, there are other methods that can stem fertilizer runoff into watersheds. For example, a recent study reported by Science Daily found that water quality increased after lawn fertilizers were banned. Furthermore, in an attempt to mitigate problems like the hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, the USGS is currently exploring how the restoration of wetlands and other natural ecosystems could help filter nutrients out of runoff before it reaches streams or coastal waters. Though many of these problems may seem daunting, awareness of the issues and education of the public in Best Management Practices can help reduce water pollution and maintain the vitality of both freshwater and costal ecosystems for future generations.
Cited: Plaster, Edward J. Soil Science and Management. 5th edition. New York: Delmar-Cengage, 2009.
About the authors: Vivian Breckenridge and Julia Mangione are working towards their bachelor degrees in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.