Eagerly awaited by water advocates in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study (or the ARBOR Study) is finally available to the public at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) website.
As speculated, the Army Corps is supporting Alternative 13, a comparatively less expensive $442-million project that would increase habitat by 104 percent according to the study. Work includes adding a side channel behind Ferraro Fields, widening of over 300 feet in Taylor Yard, and tributary restoration on the east side of the Arroyo Seco watershed.
"It presents the best value for the dollar in this constrained environment and meets all the objectives of maintaining the flood capacity and flood protection," said Army Corps Los Angeles District Commander Col. Kim Colloton.
Among the hundreds of alternatives, the Army Corps was partially able to winnow the plans down to four by carrying out an incremental cost effectiveness analysis that would show which option has the biggest bang for the buck. "Alternative 13 maximizes the net benefits: ecosystem and habitat restoration relative to the cost," added Jay Field, Chief of Public Affairs at the Army Corps. It essentially answered the question, "Is it worth it?"
[Update 9/13, 10:00 a.m.: The draft study has been released online. The 500+ page L.A. River Draft Integrated Feasibility Report can be found here.]
These days environmentalists and community groups are watching their inboxes, looking out for an official announcement for the release of results of the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study, expected to be published online this week.
Nicknamed the ARBOR study (for "Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization"), the report is touted to be the start of ambitious changes to the Los Angeles River, which could affect not just the riverbanks, but the riverbed itself.
The $9.71-million study was initiated in 2006 at the behest of the U.S. Congress. It aims to identify ways in which the ecology could be restored along the river, while still ensuring flood protection for the city. The federal government is paying for half the study and the city, the balance. Once finished, the study's results could be used to begin work on identified projects. The cost of which would be split between the federal and municipal funds at different rates.
The ARBOR study initially looked into the 32-mile stretch of the river between San Fernando Valley and the City of Vernon, but its scope has now focused on the 11-mile portion that connects Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles. Soft-bottomed in some sections, it is the area the Army Corps has determined to have the greatest potential for eco-system restoration.
This year marked the last term of former Councilmember Ed Reyes, a strong supporter of revitalization along the Los Angeles River. With his departure came uncertainty over how the administration of river projects would progress.
As an answer to those lingering questions comes the newly-elected Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, whose jurisdiction covers Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Glassell Park, Historic Filipino Town, Hollywood, Little Armenia, Melrose Hill, Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown, Silver Lake, Thai Town, and Virgil Village. O'Farrell heads the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee (yes, it's a mouthful), which replaced Reyes' Ad Hoc River Committee. We talked to the new councilmember about his plans for the Los Angeles River.
Given former councilmember Ed Reyes' strong identification with river causes, people might not be as familiar with you and your work. Could you give us an idea of your history with Los Angeles River?
Back in 2002, I was new on staff with then-Councilmember Eric Garcetti. I went to the inaugural committee celebration of the Ad Hoc River Committee. From that moment on I would staff then-Councilmember Garcetti at the Ad Hoc River, at which he was Vice-Chair. In the 10 years I worked in Garcetti's staff, I was on river issues -- environmental issues, pocket parks, anything have to do with the river.
I also worked on the River Revitalization Masterplan with our consultants. It was adopted in 2007.
In 2005, while on staff, I started a river management and maintenance task force, which our objective on the task force was to improve the quality of the experience when you visited the river. We focused on things like removing graffiti, getting homeless services out there to interact with the homeless population in the river.
Summer is done, and with its close comes the time for reckoning for the Glendale Narrows Recreational Zone, a 2.5-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River that has been opened to the public for the first time since the 1930s.
Administered by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), the program opened a lush stretch of the Los Angeles River to the public for kayaking and fishing (with a permit) from Memorial Day to Labor Day, a period in which storms that could endanger the public in the river were unlikely to happen.
By all accounts the experimental program, which was expanded from last year's trial at the Sepulveda Basin (http://www.kcet.org/socal/departures/lariver/confluence/river-notes/la-river-kayaking-program-to-expand-this-summer.html), has been a success. "[The response] was beyond what we had expected," said MRCA Chief Ranger Fernando Gomez. Though a final head count is still forthcoming, Gomez roughly estimates that about 3,000 people were able to visit the river.
This year's program saw even more leeway granted to the public. As opposed to last year's guided kayaking implemented by one operator, the Glendale Narrows was free and open for everyone. On top of that, two kayak programs were able to guide new visitors to the river.
Without a baseline, no one knows how much can be gained or what has been lost.
This fall the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) will be conducting its Vegetation Survey Workshop in the Sepulveda Basin, an area that had seen some of its plant life decimated early this year. Open to members and the public (including amateur botanists), the workshop, held September 20 and 21, hopes to set the standard for surveying native plant species and support local conservation.
"In our program we produce a statewide system of how we categorize and describe vegetation," said Julie M. Evens, Vegetation Program Director at the Sacramento-based organization. The information they gather would feed into a database available from CNPS. It could also be used to inform other restoration projects nearby.
Sometimes a computer just isn't enough. While digital technology undoubtedly eases the stress of manual labor, it also removes the designer from the physical world.
"We don't get a chance to explore our creativity within the boundaries of what we can do," said Alexander Robinson, director of the Landscape Morphologies Lab (LML), a collaborative research studio within the University of Southern California. This often results in conservative projects that fail to take advantage of the riverside's unique geography.
Robinson's studio tries to counteract this by answering the question: How can we design along the Los Angeles River, while still taking into account its flow conditions? The results of the research conducted by University of Southern California landscape architecture students can now be seen at the City Hall's Bridge Gallery on the third floor.
The proposals take into account a range of water flows on the Los Angeles River -- from a tiny trickle to a raging flood. To accomplish this, LML worked with the City of Los Angeles's L.A. River Project Office and the Department of Water and Power to build a physical hydraulic model of the Bowtie parcel out of high-density foam. The site, owned by California State Parks is located in Glassell Park, bounded by the river, the rail line, the 134 freeway, and Division Street. It may be one of the locations earmarked for restoration upon the approval of the controversial Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study (ARBOR Study).
It has taken almost seven years to complete, but a complex study on revitalizing the Los Angeles River, conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will soon be available to the public. With it comes the possibility of making real change to the city's historic waterway system, including removal of concrete and restoration of riparian ecosystems in key sections.
"Under the concrete, the river is smiling and it's about to give a victorious laugh," said Lewis MacAdams, co-founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), which has been working behind the scenes to complete the study.
In a rally organized by the offices of Councilman Mitch O'Farrell and Gil Cedillo, the city's water advocates and city officials gathered to show their support for Alternative 20 of the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study or ARBOR study (or "Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization"). "We want the river to become part of the culture of Los Angeles," said O'Farrell. "We want L.A. to be known as one of the great river cities."
In attendance also was Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, who would take on the task of securing the budgets for the approved alternative. "This may not be as large as the Sacramento Delta or the Mississippi river, but it gave birth to one of the greatest cities in the country," said Gomez.
Alternative 20, priced at $1.06 billion, proposes restoration to Verdugo Wash, Arroyo Seco Confluence, and Taylor Yard Bowtie parcel. It also proposes channel modifications and terracing in multiple locations along the river. The option represents the most ambitious plans for changing the Los Angeles River. It also carries the highest price tag. The projected cost of the proposed projects would be split 50-50 between the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The cost for Alternative 13, the cheapest of available options at $444 million, would be split between the city and USACE 70-30, with the city bearing the bigger brunt.
The price tag is why city officials think Alternative 13 has become the USACE's expected preferred alternative, which shouldn't be the case. "I'm not an ecologist. I'm a people person," said Alexander Robinson, director of the Landscape Morphologies Lab at the University of Southern California in a separate conversation. "But it's clear that we have to change the river itself, and we have to think about how that would affect generations of people who will live with the river and the ecological benefit of changing the river in the long-term. If we don't do this right, the river would continue to be this blight and that would be terrible."
O'Farrell makes a good argument when he points out, "If the federal government can spend $2 billion every day during the Iraq war era, then they should be able to spend $1 billion for the Los Angeles River." A resolution declaring the city's preference for Alternative 20 will be voted upon today by the Los Angeles City Council and is expected to pass unanimously.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has moved the release date of the study further in the calendar year to September 20, said to City Engineer Gary Lee Moore. Its publication would signal the start of the public comment period, where residents could voice their support for the different alternatives.
Photos by Carren Jao.
At SWA Landscape's summer studio, a crowd of Los Angeles River advocates gathered to hear proposals of river interventions made by seven interns from around the country.
After Ohio State University student Ian Mackay explained his proposition, which included a rust-colored perforated bridge that would double as bird habitat, Travis Longcore, science director of The Urban Wildlands Group, lauded his proposal saying it would be better for birds than the "North Atwater bridge, which would probably kill birds with its series of wires."
Longcore's statement stunned the crowd and prompted a meeting with the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation (LARRC), who had a representative in attendance at the presentation.
According to Longcore, herons and egrets, which could normally be found in the area, aren't acrobatic birds. They wouldn't be able to quickly change course once they spot the series of wires distinctive to the design of the North Atwater bridge (officially known as La Kretz Crossing). "Once they're set their course, they're not used to looking for obstruction," said Longcore. Like large ships that take time to turn, so do large birds such as these.
"Herons also get a blind spot in front of their head when they fly," Longcore added. Birds in this family have a blind spot because of the position of their eyes and the tilt of their heads during flight. "They can look forward, but once they tilt their heads slightly to look down, they have blind spots in front of them."
When it comes to complex problems, fresh eyes sometimes bring valuable new perspectives. This year, the Los Angeles chapter of landscape and urban design firm SWA Group hosted seven students from around the country and asked them to reconsider the landscape around the Los Angeles River.
"It was very much a challenge for the students given that we only had four weeks," explained Ying-Yu Hung, principal at SWA, "but the Los Angeles River was very much in our backyard and we couldn't resist the opportunity to study it."
Each summer, SWA Landscape holds it annual summer student program in one of the firm's seven locations around the world. This year is SWA Los Angeles's first turn at hosting the summer program. For four weeks, participants were immersed in river issues and asked to come up with landscape proposals centered on a particular neighborhood of Los Angeles along the river. Students kayaked along the river, spoke with professionals working on the river, and toured the upper watershed as preparation.
What came out of the month-long immersion were a wide variety of solutions, some closer to ambitious projects Angelenos could easily imagine playing out in the city, others pushing the envelope of what's possible in the city.
In the latest chapter in the long-running question of who is responsible for cleaning up water pollution on the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, on August 8 the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found Los Angeles County and the County Flood Control District liable for excessive amounts of pollutants on the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers. The decision comes after the Supreme Court returned the case to the Ninth Circuit in January.
When the Supreme Court heard the case, it determined that "discharge of pollutants does not occur when polluted water flows from one portion of a river that is navigable water of the United States, through a concrete channel or other engineered improvement in the river, and then into a lower portion of the same river." But, Steve Fleischli, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) national Water Program, said nobody had disputed that the County's monitoring of water pollution levels didn't mean they weren't responsible for pollution tolerances exceeding prescribed levels.