Green river milestone

July 10, 2014 

The river's biggest greenway project so far will be inaugurated Saturday. Photo/Public Works

Improving the Los Angeles River has become a local cause célèbre, with increasing numbers of Angelenos pushing to transform the concrete channel into a place where people can exercise, play and relax.

This Saturday, L.A. County takes a big step toward that goal when it opens the L.A. River Headwaters Project, which is located at the river’s official beginning—the convergence of Calabasas and Bell creeks in Canoga Park.

The $11.5 million project is the river’s largest greenway improvement so far, with 2.5 miles of upgrades that benefit the public and the environment. Cung Nguyen, the river’s watershed manager for the Department of Public Works, said the opening  is an important milestone.

“If we improve the beginning and end of the river, then we can start filling in all the gaps,” Nguyen said. “Ultimately, the grand picture is to provide connectivity for recreation along the whole river.”

Joggers and bicyclists will gain access to 2.5 miles of new trails (1¼-mile in each direction) on which to ride and run, passing safely under street crossings and over pedestrian bridges. Rest areas with benches will provide pit stops for those who prefer to take a slower pace.

Native landscaping replaces the former backdrop of an access road and chain link fencing. It also creates new habitat for wildlife, including 300 species of migratory birds that rest their wings by the river. Maintenance crews have been trained to know when nesting seasons are so they won’t disturb the avian guests as they pass through.

The project is still designed to help prevent devastating floods while reducing the amount of urban runoff with bioswales—subsurface plant and sediment-filled structures that let water seep into the ground to be filtered naturally rather than getting fast-tracked, pollutants and all, into the ocean. Nguyen estimated that up to 587,000 gallons of water will be recaptured in an average year.

The headwaters project is funded by the county Flood Control District, along with a $1.8 million grant from Prop. 84, a state initiative dedicated to improving water systems. The project originated with the 1996 L.A. River Master Plan, which recognized the waterway’s importance as a natural resource and targeted publicly-owned lands for future projects. More than 50 of those projects have been completed to date, with another 50 or so to come. Coming up are more greenways like the headwaters project as well as things like wetlands, parks, bike paths and kayaking programs. Just last month, another San Fernando Valley greenway, the half-mile Valleyheart Riverwalk project, opened between Studio City and Sherman Oaks.

While those project-by-project efforts continue, a $1 billion revitalization plan approved by the Army Corps of Engineers in May is expected to drastically improve a sweeping 11-mile section of the river between downtown L.A. and Elysian Park.

But every piece matters; even after the entire river is revitalized, few people will use all 51 miles of it in a single day. The local community of Canoga Park stands to benefit most from the headwaters project, something that Luis Rodriguez, principal of Canoga Park High School, is keenly aware of. His school sits just west of the headwaters. He sees a great educational opportunity for his students, who have been focusing on topics like water conservation and drought-resistant plants in the context of one of California’s most severe water shortages on record.

“For our school it makes a huge difference, but it’s going to revamp the entire community in a positive way,” Rodriguez said. “There’s so much industry in our area, but living spaces where people can have fun? That’s something that is really needed.”

The official opening ceremony takes place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 12, at DeSoto Avenue and the Los Angeles River in Canoga Park, 91303.

Native landscaping replaces a stark access road and chain-link fencing . Photo/Public Works

Posted 7/10/14

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