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Feds Choose Los Angeles for New Urban Waters Initiative

The L.A. River at the Spring Street Bridge | Photo via KCET Departures

Los Angeles is one of seven cities chosen for a pilot project to revitalize polluted urban waterways, White House officials announced today.

The "new federal partnership aims to stimulate regional and local economies, create local jobs, improve quality of life, and protect Americans' health by revitalizing urban waterways in under-served communities across the country," according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The program, called the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, dovetails with President Barack Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative.

John Kreemer from the EPA talked about the program during a Departures StoryShare program in April.

Cities were chosen because restoration efforts have already begun at a local level. In the Los Angeles River Watershed, projects already in the works noted by the government include the South L.A. Wetlands Park, restoration to the Station Fire burn area, the turning of Elmer Avenue in L.A. Sun Valley neighborhood into a "green street," and improvement's to the 52-mile Los Angeles River.

"There is a range of health and environmental challenges facing our urban waters today -- but each challenge is matched by an incredible opportunity to transform distressed urban waterfronts into centerpieces for community revitalization," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

A plan to make the Los Angeles river a city centerpiece was actually proposed long ago. "Continued prosperity in Los Angeles will depend on providing needed parks," urban planner Frederic Law Olmsted Jr. Olmsted argued in 1930 before the waterway was channelized for flood protection "Because, with the growth of a great metropolis here, the absence of parks will make living conditions less and less attractive, less and less wholesome. . . ." The plan was never adopted, but the current master plan to revitalize the L.A. river incorporates many of Olmsted's original concepts.

The Urban Waters Federal Partnership includes 11 federal agencies, which Obama said will break down federal silos and create stronger collaborations across the federal government with local communities. One example of that is the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency viewed as unwilling to allow the recreation in the L.A. River. But last week, surprising some, they put out an environmental assessment for a pilot kayaking program that's slated to begin in July. "The Army Corp has been bending over backward to help us out," said Lupe Vela, a city council staffer who works on river issues.

The partnership aims to boost economic development, enhance flood protection and increase recreational opportunities, education and conservation. Considering that "there is more land in the bed of the L.A. River than there is in all of Central Park," according to radio host Patt Morrison, the program could have lasting impact.

The Back Forty is an environmental blog that reports on news through the lens of open space, land use and natural resources.

Check out Departures, KCET's oral history and interactive documentary project that extensively profiled the L.A. River.

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