Just north of downtown — and a stone’s throw from the growling 5 Freeway — the concrete bed of the Los Angeles River gives way to soft earth and an explosion of riparian life: Cottonwood and sycamore trees push skyward, while fish dart beneath the swooping shadows of cackling waterfowl. The scents of mulefat scrub and sage hang in the air.
For many, it’s a vision of what the Los Angeles River looked like before it was transformed into a massive flood control channel. It also serves as a rallying point for those environmentalists who want to see the river returned to a more natural state.
But what few Angelenos realize is that for much of the year, this thriving river habitat is sustained by a constant flow of treated wastewater.
Although melting snowpack and torrential rains send water coursing along the river from time to time, most of the water originated from the sinks, dishwashers, bathtubs, toilets and washing machines of millions of homes and businesses before it was treated in sewage plants and released into the river.
Now, as climate change stokes recurring cycles of drought, cities are increasingly looking to recycle this treated wastewater even before it reaches the river’s graffiti-marred concrete. With Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledging to recycle 100% of the city’s wastewater by 2035, and the cities of Burbank and Glendale also looking to increase wastewater recycling, the 51-mile river has suddenly become a battleground between environmentalists and wastewater recycling advocates.
Yesterday two big steps occurred for bringing the endangered Southern California Steelhead back to the waters of Southern California:
First the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the San Gabriel and LLA River and Mountains Conservancy (RMC) established a cooperative agreement for the creation of the Los Angeles River Fish Passage Program. It seeds that program with $13 million of funding from Proposition 1 bond monies.
Second, from the same meeting, a Trout Unlimited proposal for a conceptual design of the lower river channel access adjacent to Dills Park, bordering Compton and Paramount through the Los Angeles River Fish Passage Program also received more than $300,000.
I’ll be writing a broader piece about what this means for conservation in the coming weeks, but I wanted to spread this good news right now.
A fascinating story from Curbed Los Angeles, about Mia Lehrer, a landscape architect who considers herself a “landscape urbanist,” and co-drafted the 2007 Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan. Thanks to John Rowen for spotting this piece:
“I’m getting a little impatient because it’s so clear that you can’t go back 100 years,” she says. “I think that the term that gets more people centered for a moment is ‘urban ecology.’ There is no such thing as ‘full restoration.’ If you were to do a restoration project and it happens to be in an area that’s 20 degrees hotter and the water in that particular area is reclaimed water with a lot of salt, what do you do? You work with ecologists and biologists to sort of figure out what are the critical factors. You try to be very supportive of the ecological factors and also the habitat, but to also take it to another level.”
At its recent quarterly meeting, the Wildlife Conservation Board approved approximately $28.7 million in grants to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California, including one for the Los Angeles River, according to its website.
A $1.4 million grant to the Council for Watershed Health for a cooperative project with the city of Los Angeles, the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, the Friends of the Los Angeles River and the Arroyo Seco Foundation for a planning project to provide designs, permits and environmental review for addressing impaired mobility for southern steelhead trout and other native fish along more than four miles of the Los Angeles River in downtown Los Angeles.
… there’s beauty in the river — the way its brutalist structure creates harsh edges and shadows, the way nature manages to thrive in the soft bottom areas, too wild to be tamed by cement. Most importantly, there have always been people who use and inhabit this space, from the Tongva who built their civilization around the bountiful waterway to Los Angeles residents who used the river as their main source of water for decades. That is, until they found water elsewhere and the river’s unpredictable boundaries became a threat to the city’s growth.
“They’re in the process of increasing the flood capacity of the river near Griffith Park and removed a bunch of boulders and some trees too. Also they hacked out a bunch of arundo but that’ll be back soon enough … .”
Tuesday Angelinos woke to a record rain that dropped more than 2 inches in a matter of hours on our thirsty basin. Check out this news report to watch rescues, as well as a swollen river with water speeds estimated at 35 m.p.h.
Today, I wanted to assess what this would mean for fishing, and was surprised not to find the river blown out, but instead to be greeted by clear water, normal levels and hungry fish. Mature tilapia and feisty green sunfish rose to both a chartreuse and to a purple (!) hi-viz Parachute Adams. I only wished I’d brought my 3 weight, as the 5 was too big for these undiscriminating fish. You have to choose your target rod: lighter for the littler guys, bigger and badder for the carp.
Bottom line: With the predicted monster El Nino possibly coming our way, these next few weeks are an excellent time to enjoy fall fishing, because once the water begins to drop in earnest, there’s not enough structure between the rip-rap banks to keep a fav spot the same. We waited for months for the bass to come back after last winter.
Also, on my way to some sweet water, here was a fly fisher who got his wheels there before I did. Technology trumps shank’s mare. (Sorry for the image quality …)
Any fishing and biking stories you’d like to share?