April 10, 2012
Since Los Angeles’ founding in the late 1700s, the Los Angeles River has been highly controversial. Used originally as Los Angeles’ main source of water, the Los Angeles River provided enough water for both the city’s agricultural need and its domestic needs. However, as the city’s population grew, the river failed to provide enough water to meet Los Angeles’ increased water needs. In the late 1800s, city officials realized that the once life-giving river served the city more as a sewage and trash dump than a viable source of potable water. As the city continued to grow, railroad and industrial development on the river’s bank continued to exacerbate the amount of waste discharged into the river. The unsightly river encouraged citizen to submit cleanup and beautification proposals to the city. Similarly, today, a new proposal—The Los Angeles Revitalization Plan—aims to improve the image of the river.
New legal interpretations of the Clean Water Act helped increase federal protection for the Los Angeles River. The 2006 Supreme Court case Rapanos v. United States challenged the traditional criteria for navigable waterways under the Clean Water Act. Traditionally, the Army Corps of Engineers regulates the development of flood control, navigation and reaction along waterways. Rapanos v. United States attempted to reduce ambiguity regarding the terms “waters of the United States” and “ significant nexus.” The case set precedence for what water bodies were accurately classified as a “water of the United States”. Thus, the ruling essentially clarified the criteria for waterways to be federally protected.
In 2008, the EPA declared the Los Angeles River a special Case to the Clean Water Act. In July 2008, a group of environmental activist kayaked the 51-mile Los Angeles River in order to prove the river was a navigable waterway. Known as the L.A. River Expedition, the demonstration drew attention to the river as a navigable waterway, rather than a “storm drain”. Previously, the Army Corps of Engineers classified only 5 miles of the river as a navigable waterway. However, the demonstration proved that the entire 51-mile length of the river was in fact navigable. On August 17, 2008, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water designated the Los Angeles River as a “Special Case’ as defined by the EPA-Corps 1989 Memorandum. The declaration transferred the river from the jurisdiction of the Army Corps to the EPA.
In 2010, the EPA announced that it would ensure more protection for the river under the Clean Water Act. This announcement strengthened future environmental protection for the 51-mile river and its tributary streams and wetlands. By being under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, the EPA is able to more effectively protect the river from potential pollution and destruction. These new regulations are important for protecting water quality, wildlife, recreation and public health.
In 2007, the city developed the Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan. By improving parts of the 51-mile river, city planners hope to improve water quality, increase wildlife abundance and health, and ultimately increase the economic value of adjacent neighborhoods. The plan attempts to return the splendor and natural beauty of the forgotten LA River back to the people of Los Angeles, while simultaneously maintaining necessary flood control systems. The plan consists of 239 projects along 32-miles of the river, from Canoga Park to downtown LA. Although not projected to be finished for another 25 to 50 years, the plan is envisioned as a greenway of interconnected parks and amenities acting to connect communities along the river.
The river’s master plan has many new areas for development. The plan aims to widen the channel in order to preserve its flood control capacity. Also, it hopes to expand the riparian habitat, thus increasing the watershed ecosystem. In addition to adding parks along the river’s banks, the revitalization efforts will also increase the number of walking paths, bicycle trails, gathering spaces, public art, community markers, restaurants, and mixed use areas. These recreational developments will make the river a feature destination.
Prominent city officials, such as Councilman Ed Reyes and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have advocated for the preservation of the river. These individuals reference significant areas, such as the Glendale narrows, where its soil river bottom encourages natural vegetation growth and wildlife inhabitation. Areas like the Glendale narrows encourage citizens to imagine what the river could be if it were properly restored.
While the proposal has gained significant public support, persistent economic conditions have delayed revitalization efforts. Although some areas of progress already exist along the LA River, such as bike paths and equestrian trails, the goal of creating an “emerald necklace” of parks is still far in the future. However, if completed it would offer Angelinos a fresh perception of their city: a long forgotten natural treasure.
LA River Revitalization Proposal
Before and After
And watch a video explaining the revitalization plans: http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_19008514
This post was authored by Scott Gross ’12 and Michaela McLoughlin ’12, both Environmental Studies majors.