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Urban River Revitalization Provides New Uses for "Living Water"

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Rivers and streams are "living water" -- they are habitat for animals, insects, plants and beneficial bacteria that form the web of life in the water and at the edges of riparian ecosystems.  Urban rivers are often turned into utililitarian channels that divert water...and they lose their habitat functions.  Los Angeles River is probably the most notorious such "river diversion" program.  In the 1930s there were massive floods in the growing city and the Corps of Engineers paved them over with concrete!  Literally.  They deepened the river to move fresh water to the Pacific ocean the fast, faster, and fastest way possible. 

Today we  see a different vision for rivers.  And Los Angeles has been working hard for almost a decade to restore their river habitat as a more natural ecosystem for both native species... and people. 

Funding for LA River Revitalization

In mid-2009, local Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (34th District) announced the approval of $9 million more in federal funding for energy and water projects in the Los Angeles area; $2.15 million will go towards the Los Angeles River revitalization.

Among the House-passed appropriations measures is $1.5 million to pay for the Los Angeles River Revitalization Study.

Los Angeles River Revitalization

In 2002, the City of Los Angeles formed the Ad Hoc River Committee to serve as the central point for the revitalization of the 32-mile corridor of the river within the city's boundaries. In total, the river spans 51 miles including the sections that flow through Los Angeles County to the Pacific Ocean.

The Committee initiated the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP). The Master Plan, completed in 2007, provides the city with a long-range blueprint for development and management for the river.    

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently evaluating project alternatives with the aim of developing a "Recommended Federal Project" which may become eligible for federal funds. As part of its ongoing efforts to involve community input, the city periodically conducts outreach workshops.

The two recent meetings  featured updates on the Master Plan. Workshops give participants the opportunity to offer new ideas for the ongoing revitalization effort. This was the first such meeting in Northeast Los Angeles since November 2008. 

Many of the workshop proposals focused on ideas to bring people closer to the river such as more direct river access through pedestrian bridges, "green" corridors along major city streets to connect existing pocket parks to the river and "buffer zones" of restored vegetation along the river to shield noise from the adjacent Golden State (5) Freeway.

Reyes, who chairs the Ad Hoc River Committee, said that much progress has been made in the past six years. Among the various project updates provided was the announcement that approximately 14 of the 32 miles of proposed bike paths along the river either are underway or completed.

The Los Angeles River Improvement Overlay (LA-RIO) Plan

The Los Angeles River Improvement Overlay (LA-RIO) plan is scheduled to go before the City Council for approval this Fall. This plan is separate from the Master Plan because it will provide the city with design guidelines for future development projects or restoration of existing structures along the river. For the section of the river that runs through Northeast Los Angeles, an environmental impact report and a revised Cornfield-Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (CASP) is also expected to be completed by this Fall.

Community Redevelopment Agency Study

The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA) announced that it will launch a study on future projects along the river adjacent to the communities of Cypress Park and Glassell Park. This includes proposed mix-use development of industrial/commercial/housing projects. The study is scheduled for completion in 2012.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demonstration projects

In the funding Roybal-Allard announced on July 17, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will receive $100,000 for demonstration projects that will allow it to evaluate new high-tech materials as alternatives to concrete, test effectiveness of wetlands for runoff management and water quality improvements, and assess methods to sustain different vegetation types. Furthermore, $550,000 will go to the Los Angeles River Watercourse Headworks to continue a Feasibility Study for eco-system and habitat restoration.

For more information on the ongoing efforts on the revitalization of the Los Angeles River, visit www.lariver.org.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, Managing Editor of Solutions For Green

Publication Date: 7/31/2009

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