After Two Decades, Let’s Ensure the Updated LA River Master Plan Enhances Watershed and Community Health

by Melissa von Mayrhauser

LA Waterkeeper will join as a member of the Los Angeles County River Master Plan Update Steering Committee, which will hold its first meeting today: Wednesday, April 11. We will advocate for a revised master plan that will restore the Los Angeles River in a forward-thinking way that connects watershed and community health.

LAW’s River Assessment Fieldwork Team at the Rio Hondo Confluence, January 2018

A lot of political momentum has been stirring around river revitalization since the last County River Master Plan was released in 1996, but many of the planning processes thus far have revolved around the beautification of the river channel and development of riverfront areas.

While we are excited about the increased focus on the river’s place in our lives, let us be clear – fragmented and superficial changes that simply beautify concrete and promote development do not constitute river restoration or revitalization, and they may in fact foreclose future benefits for the community and the river and preclude more holistic, long-term planning. If this is merely a riverside beautification endeavor, this should be communicated to the public.

We believe that there is still potential for Los Angeles to lead the way with innovations in urban river watershed restoration, particularly if we lift up the voices of a range of community members and expert partners. In order for us to reach this goal of setting a positive precedent for urban river planning, the County proceedings must be transparent, inclusive, and open to a range of approaches, particularly those that deviate from standard ways of thinking. They also must be based in science and modeling. That’s why members of the public and Steering Committee should have access to data and modeling that underlies decision-making, so that we can determine the future we would like to see for the river, together.

We are in favor of a planning process that takes a watershed approach, promotes connectivity between ecosystem and public health, and creates a framework of long-term planning that integrates climate change modeling. I’ll tell you a bit more about what we mean.

Take a Watershed-Level Approach:

We will advocate for the watershed to be the foundation of our approach to restoring the river. A watershed is a land area that drains all of the water that falls on it or flows through it to a shared outlet point. The LA River drains 834 square miles of water. While the 51-mile central channel of the LA River is the most visible part of the watershed, it is the extension of a vast network of stormdrains and tributaries. We can best heal the river when we think about how environmental, social and economic concerns intersect within the context of its larger hydrologically-defined system. There have already been some efforts to consider the watershed in planning, including the Upper LA River Enhanced Watershed Management Program (EWMP). We should incorporate lessons learned from EWMP planning into the Steering Committee’s work.

Photo courtesy of the CA State Water Resources Control Board

Connect the Environment and Community:

We will advocate for environmental and community concerns to be considered conjointly. As an urban waterway in a region of over 9 million people, a restored Los Angeles River Watershed has the potential to improve the lives of many residents and provide “ecosystem services,” which are ways that the environment benefits humans. For instance, increased native riparian vegetation throughout the watershed are key to Angelenos’ well-being, including in terms of improved air and water quality, climate and water resilience, and protection from flood risk. All of these benefits translate into improved mental and physical well-being and reduced costs for energy, water, and healthcare. Many of our partners have already worked on innovative approaches of connecting community and the environment, which we should rely on during this planning process, such as Water LA, developed by The River Project, and Friends of the Los Angeles River’s Source to Sea Watershed Education Program.

Develop a Long-Term Planning Framework:

We will advocate for a strategy that includes a range of timescales to pursue a more ambitious approach to river restoration. We need a mix of more short-term projects that meet more immediate community needs and long-term initiatives that envision a more climate-resilient approach to watershed management. It is important for us to position our short-term planning into a longer-term framework so that we do not foreclose any future benefits for the river and our communities. Most notably, we need to develop a plan for the river’s floodplain, prioritizing open space over new development in the most vulnerable areas. We also need a short and long-term plan to ensure that we mitigate the impacts of gentrification and displacement in all river planning efforts.

We are looking forward to working with our fellow committee members to contribute to the Master Plan Update efforts. We encourage our volunteers and members to join us at Steering Committee meetings, which will be held quarterly through December 2019. We will post information about each meeting on our calendar. We especially encourage students and volunteers from our Creeks to Coast and River Assessment Fieldwork Team (RAFT) programs to join and submit public comments!

Los Angeles River Plan Update

Steering Committee Meeting

April 11, 2018, 9am-12pm

Department of Public Works

900 S Fremont Ave, Conference Room A-B

Alhambra, CA 91803

Contact Us

LA Waterkeeper
120 Broadway, Suite 105
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Phone: 310-394-6162
Fax: 310-394-6178

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