Extreme makeover: L.A. River edition

May 7, 2009 

For decades, the Tujunga Wash was little more than an eye-sore, a concrete flood-control channel snaking through Valley subdivisions, a tributary of the equally blighted Los Angeles River. Its one purpose: to move runoff to the ocean.

No more.

A stretch of the Tujunga Wash between Vanowen and Oxnard streets in the Third District has now become a model for urban environmentalists, complete with hundreds of new trees and plants, a bike path and a stream that allows rainwater to seep into the aquifer rather than run straight to the sea.

It is, in sum, a beautiful blend of conservation and recreation.

The effort has been so successful that a second greenway project for the Tujunga Wash is now being launched by the Army Corps of Engineers with nearly $4 million in stimulus funds from Washington. Los Angeles County is expected to contribute an additional $1.25 million.

Scheduled for completion in early 2011, it will run from Vanowen to Sherman Way—a 3,000-foot mirror-image extension of the earlier greenway and stream restoration project that Supervisor Yaroslavsky has praised as “a template for the rest of the Los Angeles River.”

The greening of Tujunga Wash is, in fact, just one facet of an ambitious makeover
of the 51-mile-long L.A. River that was adopted in 1996 by the Board of Supervisors and involves a partnership between the city and county of Los Angeles, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and non-profit community groups that have raised money and supplied labor to replant sections of the river. The mission: to protect the river’s flood capabilities while enhancing adjacent communities with parks, recreational opportunities, environmental restoration, economic development and civic pride.

Already, segments of the river—near Griffith Park, for example—have been transformed with popular bike paths and thick natural vegetation that has attracted migratory birds and other wildlife. Some plans call for the removal of concrete along certain sections of the river to restore it to an even more natural state.

Work on the latest segment of the Tujunga Wash, which feeds runoff from Hansen Dam to the L.A. River, is expected to begin in summer, 2010, and be finished in six months. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the project will bring an additional 14 acres of open space and native habitat to the area, as well as extend the stream that was earlier created by the county to cleanse runoff and replenish the aquifer.

“Continuing the work on this project is important to helping restore degraded habitat along the channel, providing nesting opportunities for migratory birds and establishing a corridor for wildlife movements,” said Col. Thomas H. Magness IV, commander of the corps’ Los Angeles District.

The project received federal stimulus dollars, according to Army Corps of Engineer officials, because it’s expected to create an estimated 32 jobs directly related to the work and an additional 55 jobs in industries supplying or supporting the construction, performing operations and maintenance and selling goods and services to the workers and their families.

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