The Los Angeles River is a creek flowing through Los Angeles County, California, from Canoga Park in the west end of the San Fernando Valley, 51 miles (82 km) southeast to its mouth in Long Beach. For most of its length, it flows through a narrow concrete channel. Today, some environmental groups advocate the removal of concrete and the restoration of natural vegetation and wildlife.
Before the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the river was the primary source of fresh water for the city. Although the Los Angeles region still gets some of its water from the river and other local sources, most comes from several aqueducts serving the area. The river suffers severe pollution from garbage and urban runoff.
Major tributaries, in order of their appearance on the river, are Aliso Canyon Wash, the Tujunga Wash,Brown's Canyon Wash, the Western Burbank Channel, the Verdugo Wash, the Arroyo Seco, the Rio Hondo, and Compton Creek. The river flows eastward through the San Fernando Valley until turning south and southeast in the city of Burbank. It then flows between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Verdugo Mountains through a passage known as the Glendale Narrows. When it leaves the Glendale Narrows, the River flows directly south through Downtown Los Angeles and continues flowing in a straight southerly direction until it reaches Long Beach.
The river flows in a concrete flood control channel capable of delivering massive amounts of rainwater to the sea during the rainy season. These flood waters come from the Santa Monica Mountains, the Verdugo Mountains, the Santa Susana Mountains, and the San Gabriel Mountains, collecting more urban runoff from Los Angeles and Pasadena along its path to the Pacific Ocean. In the dry season, about 80% of the water in the river consists of tertiary treated sewage water. While this water is cleaner than the water in most urban rivers around the world, the river is polluted from runoff from the city streets, which drain into the river all along its fifty mile course. Rainy season floodwaters from the streets of Los Angeles are particularly toxic and have created pollution problems along the beaches following heavy storms.
The River was originally an alluvial river that ran freely across a flood plain that is now occupied by Los Angeles, Long Beach, and other townships in Southern California. Its path was unstable and unpredictable, and the mouth of the River moved frequently from one place to another between Long Beach and Ballona Creek. In the early nineteenth Century, the River turned southwest after leaving the Glendale Narrows, where it joined Ballona Creek and discharged into Santa Monica Bay in present Marina del Rey. However, during a catastrophic flash flood in 1835, its course was diverted again to its present one, flowing due south just east of present-day downtown Los Angeles and discharging into San Pedro Bay. (Prior to another major flood in 1862, it was joined by the San Gabriel River in present-day Long Beach, but in that year the San Gabriel carved out a new course 6 miles (10 km) to the east, and has discharged into Alamitos Bay ever since.)
Until the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Los Angeles River was the primary water source for the Los Angeles Basin, and much of its channel was dry except during the winter rains. Unpredictable and devastating floods continued to plague it well into the 1930s (most notably the catastrophic 1938 flood that precipitated the recall of corrupt Los Angeles mayor Frank L. Shaw), leading to calls for flood control measures. The Army Corps of Engineers duly began an ambitious project of completely encasing the river's bed and banks in concrete, with only a trickle of water usually flowing down its middle. Ever since, it has primarily served as a flood control channel, fed by storm drains. The only portions of the river in which it is not completely paved over are in the flood control basin behind the Sepulveda Dam near Van Nuys; a 3-mile (5-km) stretch east of Griffith Park known as the Glendale Narrows; and along its last few miles in Long Beach.
The Los Angeles River bicycle path runs through the Glendale Narrows and is accessible to the public at its north end at Riverside Drive, at Los Feliz Boulevard, and at its south end at Glendale Boulevard. The bike path runs parallel to the 5 freeway for the majority of its length and has mile markers and call boxes for information and safety purposes.
The river's southern stretch forms the heart of an industrial corridor stretching nearly unbroken from Lincoln Heights to Long Beach. In this area, the busy Long Beach Freeway (I-710) and several high-voltage power lines run within a few hundred feet of the riverbed. Several rail yards are located along the river's banks in this stretch, as well. Just outside of the industrial corridor lie some of the most densely populated cities in the state of California, such as the cities of Cudahy and South Gate; most of these cities are in the river's flood plain and experienced significant flooding prior to channelization.
One of the initiatives shepherded by the Ad Hoc River Committee is the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. As a result of the Ad Hoc River Committee’s efforts, and with funding from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Public Works-Bureau of Engineering issued a Request for Proposals in 2005 for the preparation of a Revitalization Master Plan which would identify proposals that would make the Los Angeles River a “front door” to the City, and support a multitude of civic activities.
The 18-month revitalization planning process looked at improvements along the project area all aimed towards protecting wildlife, promoting the health of the river, and leveraging economic development. By the end of the planning process, a 20-year blueprint for development and management of the Los Angeles River was developed for implementation by the City of Los Angeles. The plan was officially adopted by the City of Los Angeles in May 2007.
Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) and other environmental groups have been advocating restoration of the river, creation of a wildlife corridor from the mountains to the sea and a radical change in the way rainwater on individual properties is dealt with.
The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, has a powerful State mandate to connect Elysian and Griffith Parks to the mountains. With an initial budget of $1,000,000, MRCA is evaluating the acquisition of properties to create parks and trails along the river between the two large parks. (See the article by Ester Feldman in the April '94 TPR).
The California Coastal Conservancy, a state agency, published its Los Angeles River Park and Recreation Study in 1993, identifying potential projects along the river. In November 2005, Unpave LA sponsored a well attended conference, Rethinking the River, to promote discussion of LA River management options.In 2006, Mayor Villaraigosa visited South Korea to look at their river restoration project, the Cheonggyecheon.
Several music videos have also been filmed at the Los Angeles River, including:
"Take The Long Road And Walk It- The Music
Communities and Cities along the banks of the Los Angeles River include: