Students See Firsthand the Need for Ecological Restoration of our LA River

Authored by Melissa von Mayrhauser, LAW’s Watershed Program Manager

What would we like to see for the future of the LA River? Just ask some Aspire High School students from Huntington Park who recently visited the river in Maywood in order to collect water quality samples and gain a deeper understanding of the health of their local waterway.

Aspire students measure dissolved oxygen levels and temperature at the LA River.

Aspire students measure dissolved oxygen levels and temperature at the LA River.

This fieldwork trip was part of our Urban Waters Civic Action Project (UWCAP), which we are working on in collaboration with our partners at UCLA and the Constitutional Rights Foundation. We are teaching high schools students about the intersections between water science and civic action in an after-school program at four schools in the LA River watershed. The students are working on developing their own civic action projects, as inspired by pollution concerns that they observe in their communities.

All of the students were visiting the LA River for the first time. The students learned first-hand about the challenges of even reaching the river itself!

There is no pedestrian walk-way, so we dodged cyclists while walking to our sites. The banks of the river are steep and covered in trash pieces, including glass shards, which makes it physically difficult to walk down to the stream. The concretized riverbed of course lacks vegetation, and the heat of walking along it without shade can be intense.

One student shared his perspective on his observations.

When we finally reached the river, the students measured foundational water chemistry indicators, including temperature, dissolved oxygen and pH. Their findings show high temperature readings, low dissolved oxygen and high pH (see table below), which point to conditions that are inhospitable to much aquatic life.

The students learned that most aquatic life can only thrive at certain temperature, dissolved oxygen and pH ranges. For instance, most organisms prefer the pH range between 6.5-8, while the students’ findings were between 9.34 and 10.34. They also learned that the higher the water temperature, the less oxygen it can hold. Aquatic organisms rely on oxygen to survive, and so a dissolved oxygen reading as low as 3ppm can be inhospitable. A water temperature that is too high can exceed organisms’ heat tolerance, including at the range of 27-29 degrees that we observed.

One of the 10th grade students summed up the monitoring experience well, writing:

“The health of the river is really poor. It’s not in the best condition to live in. The environment needs to be improved to create a hospitable habitat.”

The students’ findings highlight the great need for the ecological restoration of the Los Angeles River, an effort which we think needs to look seriously at water quality and habitat health as they relate to the health of the watershed as a whole, and which needs respond to local communities’ concern, such as improved and safer access to the waterway.

Parameter Result:
Site 1
Result:
Site 2
Water temperature (C) 27 29
Dissolved oxygen (ppm) 4 3
pH 9.32 10.34

Some of the student results from the monitoring trip.

In the coming weeks, the students will continue to learn about how their findings connect to broader watershed concerns, and they will be working on a project of interest to them that tackles a water quality concern in their community.

The students will be sharing their final civic action projects at the Civic Action Project Showcase on May 24th at the California Endowment, which is organized by Constitutional Rights Foundation. There the students will share first-hand about their findings and about what they’d like to see for the future of the LA River watershed.

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