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.