The Engineers of the Us Army Corps Managed to Tame the Los Angeles River

Published: 2021-09-23 00:25:10
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The Los Angeles River is a fifty-one mile long concrete river channel that starts at the the Santa Susana Mountains and Simi Hills, and travels through L.A. County down to Long Beach (Los Angeles River Corporation). Due to past flooding and destruction of buildings, railroad bridges, and the death of Los Angeles’s citizens, the river was tamed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930’s. The river was straightened, deepened, and filled with concrete to expedite water flow and reduce the possibility of flood. (Rosner 2015).
Although these alterations have caused some serious damage to the river, there are good outcomes derived from the concretization of the area. One benefit is that the river’s shape, hardness, low infiltration rate, and smoothness efficiently gathers pollutants and pushes them downstream and out of the area quickly. Although this pollutes the ocean, it solves the immediate problem of river pollution. With a smaller volume of water in the river, the potency of pollutants would be much higher than in the ocean. We must utilize the river’s fresh water, and to do that its necessary to limit pollutants due to possible health hazards. However, the main advantage to the concrete river format is that does what the US Army Corps of Engineers set out to accomplish; the concrete transports water out quickly to the ocean which prevents flooding that could have demolished urban developments and taken human lives. Without the flood protection the river offers, Los Angeles would not be the metropolis it is today (Goldstein 2014).However, with fast drainage and concrete floors many environmental issues begin to occur. One problem is that at times of high flows, there is too much water moving through the channel at a high velocity. This is an issue because the engineers need to be “conscientious of a watershed’s bounds” because if we “just flood out downstream” issues will arise with the areas being bombarded with water (Goldstein 2014). For the parts of the river not encased in concrete, the artificially increased speed of flow is too much for many living creatures and ecosystems to survive in. This flow destroys the species in the area and the ecosystems they resided in. Other issues occur do to the fact that we separated the river from the river basin. This disables the river from replenishing its “soils with nutrients, the beaches with sand and the aquifers with water” (Goldstein 2014). The lack of nutrients hurts surrounding life and inhibits growth of anything that could survive there. Sand is necessary to keep the oceans from and encroaching on our coast lines, a problem that is currently artificially kept at bay with imported sand to save homes and businesses. Most importantly, our aquifers need water because Californian’s need water to survive and there is a shortage. The concretization of the river worsens the severity of our water shortage because we live in a dry climate and covering a river with a substance that conducts heat well and offers little infiltration does not help us conserve water. To fix these problems, specialists have theorized how to fix them (Rosenberg 2012).
Many plans have been created in order to ameliorate the issues that concretization of the Los Angeles River caused. Most of these plans, or “alternatives” as they are referred to, involve changing parts of the river back into a normal, organic river system. The alternatives were suggested and presented by the same group who concretized the river: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A total of twenty-one alternatives were proposed and 4 main ideas made it to the table for major consideration.
The first major Alternative considered was number ten, called “ARBOR Riparian Transitions,” or “ART” because it involves restoring all 43 reaches (sections of the LA River) and includes building connections between riparian corridors (area including the river and the land next to to it) and the concrete reach sections in the river (US Army Corps of Engineers). The major benefit of this plan is that it is the least expensive course of action for rehabilitation, coming in at 346 million dollars. This is about a third as expensive as the most intensive plan, and still would improve the river’s state. There would be an “increase in habitat of 93 percent” with an additional “5,321 habitat units” and more connections between each of the habitats and the riparian corridors near them. Also, the hydrological components of the river would be better interconnected between streams because the plan involves restoring 528 acres of space. This is the least environmentally friendly plan, but the easiest to accomplish financially.
The next Alternative is the thirteenth, and is called ACE (ARBOR Corridor Extension). This plan makes further additions to plan 10, while still including all the improvements that Alternative 10 suggests (US Army Corps of Engineers). The main difference between these two plans is that ACE will increase habitats by 104 percent which is 11 percent greater than the latter. This additional restoration will develop three different reaches (reference Map 1 for all reaches). These areas include reach 3 in Ferraro Fields, Taylor yard in reach 6 in the Arroyo Seco watershed in reach 7 (See map 2 as an example of rehabilitation of a reach). So, this plan is more environmentally conscious but less advantageous in the ways of cost. The restoration will provide 581 more habitat units, 60 more acres of restored land, and 309 percent more nodule connections for the wildlife (Barboza 2013). However, these improvements come at a cost: 95 million more than Alternative 10, an overall 442 million dollars.
The third plan is the 16th Alternative known as AND (ARBOR Narrows to Downtown). Aside from all preceding restoration action proposed, there is some additional work on reaches 5 and 8. It increases habitat by 114 percent which is 10 percent greater than Alternative 13, 607 total habitat units, and 71 acres more that are being restored. Finally, there are 85 percent more nodal connections than Alternative 13 (Bachrach 2013). As each plan grows bigger, more money is spent and this would end up costing 315 million more than the previous Alternative (US Army Corps of Engineers).
The last plan is Alternative 20, known as “RIVER” (Riparian Integration via Varied Ecological Introduction). This plan includes a wider river in Reach 2, restoring Reach 3 further than the other plans, (See map 2 as an example of rehabilitation of a reach) and ameliorates the wetlands in the Los Angeles State Park in Reach 7. For 1.04 billion dollars there is 119 more habitat units, 60 additional restored acres and 120 percent more nodal habitat connectivity (US Army Corps of Engineers). As the most comprehensive plan, it has a great financial cost but it provides the needed level of ecological repair. In addition to that, this compromised area will branch out into a large system with many possibilities for its surrounding communities in Los Angeles in the form of, entertainment, enjoyment, and beauty.
I believe the best Alternative comprehensively is “RIVER” for a multitude of both environmental and economic reasons. The biggest reason RIVER is the greatest proposal is that it encompasses the greatest amount of land, and thereby gives more opportunity for thriving life within and along the river. The problem of rapid water flow will be solved through the removal of concrete, so natural soil and vegetation will be able to slow down the rate of stream flow. This means that different species can survive in the river again and ecosystems can be reclaimed. The soil in the river will begin self-replenishing its own nutrients again, aquifers will get more water and beaches will naturally begin to receive more sand (Goldstein 2014). The issues that concrete presents will be eradicated in in areas such that soil can infiltrate water, naturally transport it, and it will still prevent flooding. Also, from a cultural and economic standpoint, this plan will involve transforming the area adjacent to the river into an “urban oasis”. The area will be reimagined into a “thriving river” surrounded by gorgeous vegetation, bike paths, “bridges, parks, public art,” and “waterfront businesses”. (Rosner 2014). There are also projects instituted to further include near-river communities such as “Street Ends” which works with communities to create their own gates to the river area. Furthermore, to lower the personal cost of the project, the “the federal government [is splitting] the cost of the project” so that the city will only be responsible for about half of the funds (Jamison 2015). With the lowered fiscal responsibility, it is a perfect opportunity to restore the area as completely as possible. The new beautiful space provides parks, and waterfront businesses, making the river a new attraction for tourists and thereby generating income for LA. The space for these parks and shops will bring communal bonding as well, and the happiness those relationships bring to people cannot be given a price tag.

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