HIDDEN BEAUTY – The Los Angeles River

The Los Angeles River , a series of concrete veins that starts in the San Fernando Valley and flows 51 miles through Los Angeles County and finally to its mouth in Long Beach. The free flowing river once frequently flooded forming alluvial flood plains along its banks; it now flows through a concrete channel on a fixed course.
Prior to the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Los Angeles River was the main source of fresh water for the city. Though Los Angeles city still gets some of its water from the river and other local sources, most of it comes from the aqueducts serving the region. Until the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueducts the Los Angeles River was the main source of water for the Los Angeles basin, and much of its channel was dry except for winter rains. Devastating and unpredictable floods continued to plague it well into the 1930’s leading to flood control measures. The Army Corps Engineers began an ambitious project of completely encasing the rivers bed and banks in concrete.  Ever since, it has primarily served as a flood control channel fed by storm drains. The only portions of the river in which it is not completely paved over are in the flood control basin behind the Sepulveda dam near Van Nuys known as the Glendale Narrows.

The river was originally an alluvial river that ran freely across a flood plain that is now occupied by Los Angeles, Long Beach, and other townships in Southern California. Its path was unstable and unpredictable, and the mouth of the river moved frequently from one place to another between Long Beach and Ballona Creek. In the early nineteenth Century, the river turned southwest after leaving the Glendale Narrows.  The river joined Ballona Creek and discharged into Santa Monica Bay in present Marina del Rey. During a catastrophic flash flood in 1835, its course was diverted again to its present one, flowing due south just east of present-day downtown Los Angeles and discharging into San Pedro Bay.

One of the initiatives to revitalizing the river is the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, which would make the Los Angeles River “a front door” to the city and support a multitude of civic activities. The 18 month revitalization planning process looks at improvements along the project area, all aimed towards protecting wildlife, promoting the health of the river, and leveraging economic development.

In a 2008 study by Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR) documented largemouth bass, green sunfish, tilapia, black bullhead, Amazon sailfish catfish, carp, fathead minnow and mosquito fish as living in the river. Historically the river supported populations of steelhead trout; the last one documented caught in the river was in the 1940’s. The river also supports a number of bird species, including Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, American Coot, Black necked Stilt and Muscovy duck.

The LA River also holds the River bicycle path which parallels the LA River for most of its length.  Ridding along the river is a beautiful ride for anyone seeking to bypass the traffic of LA.  Even though most people of LA do not recognize the LA River anything more than a place for water runoff; the LA River has hidden beauty buried beneath  the surface.  As a flood control measure however, following the Los Angeles Flood of 1938, concrete banks and bed were created for nearly all the length of the river, making it essentially navigable by bicycle to its end, where it empties into the San Pedro Bay in Long Beach.

Article written by Maglay Contreras


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