Revitalization Plan for Lower LA River Misses Opportunity for Watershed-Level Changes

LA Waterkeeper Highlights Draft Proposal’s Room for Improvement

Contact: Sharon Licht, sharon@lawaterkeeper.org, (310) 394-6162 x108


LOS ANGELES (December 12, 2017) —Last Thursday, the Lower LA River Working Group released its Draft Revitalization Plan for the section of the river from Vernon to Long Beach. Los Angeles Waterkeeper (LAW) finds that the document falls considerably short of its original intention to develop a “revitalization plan for the Lower Los Angeles River watershed,” as it instead proposes a beautified channel.

The Plan is the result of Assembly Bill 530, authored by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), which was adopted in October 2015 to activate the Working Group and develop a revitalization strategy.

The Plan provides insight into ways to improve access to green spaces and community amenities that would enhance the quality of life of many residents in neighborhoods that currently lack these resources and are among the most environmentally-burdened throughout LA County.

“We applaud Speaker Rendon and the Working Group’s efforts to shine a spotlight on a chronically-overlooked section of the river, engage community in a dialogue about their priorities, and increase equitable access to the river,” said LAW’s Executive Director, Bruce Reznik. “However, the plan released last week represents a missed opportunity to tackle Lower LA River revitalization holistically.”

Despite its self-characterization as a river plan that’s “watershed-based”, the Plan fails to consider the river within its larger watershed context, misses the opportunity to connect river and community health, and seems to focus on beautification of concrete over integrated ecological restoration.

The arbitrary scope of the report of “one mile of either side of the river from Vernon to Long Beach” does not consider how water moves as part of an interconnected system, and instead treats the river as an isolated channel.

“A true watershed-based strategy would consider ways to mitigate flood risk upstream with capture and infiltration,” noted Melissa von Mayrhauser, LAW’s Watershed Programs Manager. “It would also prioritize long-term thinking about turning open spaces along the river into parks and riparian corridors that could benefit both the river and the community. We should plan with the unique ecosystem of the river as the foundation of our efforts.”

The Plan cites that only approximately 270 acres of river-adjacent open space remain.

Meanwhile, it proposes more development along the river’s floodplain in precisely the riverfront areas that would be most vulnerable to flooding in a large-scale storm event.

“In the aftermath of more severe storms and increasing flooding like we saw in Houston this August, it is the height of irresponsibility to continue building to the banks of the LA River,” noted Reznik. “We should, instead, be aggressively pursuing opportunities to remove hardscape from our watershed and minimize the larger flood risk across the region.”

Moreover, South LA residents could play a substantial role in the revitalization process by participating in projects to capture, clean, and infiltrate water, while increasing healthy habitat. The Plan references South LA’s higher-than-average unemployment rate of 14.6%, but does not propose ways to increase employment opportunities through watershed stewardship opportunities.

Rather than focusing on ecological health and community well-being, the Plan instead prioritizes terracing concrete and beautifying the concrete levees with murals.

“Concrete beautification is not the equivalent of river restoration or watershed-based planning as we were promised,” added von Mayrhauser, who also directs LAW’s River Assessment Fieldwork Team (RAFT). “Access opportunities should be planned in harmony with long-term river health metrics. The people of South LA deserve access to a healthy and safe river, not just an enhanced concrete channel.”

Comments will be accepted through January 11, 2018. The plan is available at www.lowerlariver.org/the-plan/.

“With all the attention now on the LA River, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore the river to maximize ecological health, while also providing greater public access and meaningful and equitable community revitalization,” added Reznik. “Despite the efforts of the AB 530 Working Group, the Plan has not yet reached that laudable goal.”

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ABOUT LOS ANGELES WATERKEEPER

Founded in 1993, Los Angeles Waterkeeper’s works to protect and restore Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Bay, and adjacent waters through enforcement, fieldwork, and community action. For more information, visit www.lawaterkeeper.org

Since its inception, Waterkeeper has worked extensively to protect and restore the LA River through advocacy, research and community engagement. Early legal efforts undertaken by the organization led to the creation of pollution limits and restoration plans (known as Total Maximum Daily Loads or ‘TMDLs’) for the River and other impaired waterways throughout Los Angeles. In July 2016, LAW filed suit against the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), challenging the agency’s efforts to weaken standards for lead and copper pollution in the LA River.

Waterkeeper recently filed a protest with the SWRCB over efforts to allow cities to extract water from the LA River for purple-pipe recycling projects until a complete assessment is undertaken to determine ideal flows for the LA River. The organization is also engaged in regulatory efforts to establish protective bacteria levels, biological criteria and flow criteria for California’s waterways, which will all have major implications for the LA River.

Since its inception, LAW has also focused on addressing industrial pollution throughout LA County, with a special emphasis on the LA River. In 2016, Waterkeeper launched its Community Water Watch team, which is focused on building community partnerships to monitor industrial stormwater pollution in the LA River Watershed, with a particular focus on South LA. Addressing industrial pollution upstream could aid in opening the lower river up to more recreation.

Lastly, through its River Assessment Fieldwork Team (RAFT), LAW works with volunteers and partners to regularly conduct fieldwork – including water quality management and rapid trash assessments – along three stretches of the LA River. Volunteers assessing the health of the Maywood section of the Lower LA River regularly observe poor water quality, toxic pollution coming through storm drains, and an unhealthy habitat. RAFT has also documented low biodiversity and low abundance of wildlife and habitat types along the lower river, especially when compared to more natural sections in the upper watershed. LAW is using data collected through its RAFT program to advocate for more natural restoration of the LA River. LAW is also working with high schools, such as Aspire Public Schools in Huntington Park, to do river fieldwork and discuss what they would like to see for the future of the LA River.

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