The "LA" River

The "LA" River

For more than 70 years, the LA River in Southern California (Google Earth: LA River) has been not more than a vast sprawling concrete-lined channel, cutting like a crater through the center of the Los Angeles basin, from the mountains north of Los Angeles to the ocean shores. Things changed greatly from its original meandering flow through the basin, described in 1877, by famed engineer, William Mulholland, as “a beautiful, limpid little stream with willows on its banks“ and as one of the city’s “greatest attractions”. Unique among rivers where vast arteries like the mighty Mississippi, Amazon, Nile, Colorado and more flow year round; the LA River can go from moments of raging torrents and rapids during the rainy season to mere trickles of water disappearing into her sands in the 100 degree heat L.A. summers

For seventy years, since man thought he should control nature with concrete, the LA River has fallen victim to this way of thinking. As bulldozers carved away at her banks, and concrete laced her shores, she became sterile and devoid of life, except for small bands of nighttime intruders armed with cans of paint who tattooed her walls with their tribal marks, a few sprinklings of homeless encampments, and some hidden hotbeds of criminal activity. And for years, any blade of grass, weed, or other fauna seeking to push up through her concrete lining would be met and destroyed with a phalanx of bulldozer blades to slice the life from them.

It was in the 1930s that the Los Angeles River was concreted for 38 of her 51 miles by engineers seeking to protect the vast LA basin from flooding. It was a massive project that created many jobs, and it went on to grow to be a giant budgetary powerhouse for those agencies overseeing her welfare. Destroying the natural ecology of the river with concrete, fencing, and barbed wire, the river was sealed for seventy years from the decent general public with threats of arrest and incarceration for the simple act of just approaching her river bank.

Fortunately, through the hard work of grass roots groups, ecologists, naturalists, and countless others, along with the great work of “The Friends of the LA River,” there began a change in the river’s destiny. At long last, the Army Corp of Engineers, LA Public Works, County Flood Control and other agencies began to allow the natural flora and fauna to slowly return as sands washed down from the hills into her channels providing shelter for seeds, and new life soon pushed up through the concrete.

As we Angelinos look back and watch this gradual process, it is as if we are watching the springing of life on a planet, its surface, once desolate of life, now becoming a Phoenix, rising up through the concrete. Biking and hiking paths now adjoin her banks, and most recently, three miles have been opened to kayaking. There is still great work to be done in opening this beautiful river up to life, but a start has been made.

You can make a direct impact by making your voice heard, by studying the issues and getting involved. Contact your local government officials, write letters to editors, blog, join established organizations, or even start your own. Become a volunteer. Many wonderful organizations can use your help. One person, one voice can make a difference!

Connect with us and others here on the Bushland blog with your thoughts, ideas, and reflections on how to help defend our planet Earth. Your comments and suggestions may be selected to be published on our website.

Blog Archive