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LA River ©Rod Ramsey
LA River ©Rod Ramsey
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A Brief History Of The LA River

Picture of Mary Pettas
Updated: 27 August 2016
People are often surprised when they find out that Los Angeles actually has a river running through it, as one usually defaults to the most prominent body of water in the area – the Pacific Ocean. However, the L.A. river is an essential component of the topographic makeup of the city and Los Angeles’ ecosystem, resources, and overall history. It was a significant part of the city in the earliest days of L.A.’s inception as people settled on land originally intended for farming purposes only made possible by the river. It’s significance is great – and it should not be overlooked, but rather protected as we move into the 21st century.

The mouth of the river begins in the foothills of Simi Valley in the base of the Santa Susana Mountain Range, at the confluence of Bell Creek and Arroyo Calabasas. Although it starts off small, it receives multiple watersheds along its length that make its width sizeable and its flow brisk. Hikers in the Santa Monica mountains may sometimes see small streams or creeks. Chances are they will eventually join the route of the L.A. river along with many others (although many have also run dry due to years of drought). It then makes its way through the Angeles National Forest, down through Burbank, alongside Griffith Park, and finally emptying into the Pacific Ocean all the way in Long Beach.

©Alfred Twu/Wikimedia

LA River Near Downtown LA. | Wikimedia ©Alfred Twu

At one point, the extensive L.A. river was the main water source for the entire city. However, as the metropolitan area grew in size, it needed more and more water supplied for regular consumption and for the thirsty agricultural industry in need of H20 for raising animals and crops. Even as precipitation decreased and pollution of the river increased, the demand for water grew higher and eventually local government had to turn to other water sources and construct aqueducts from larger watersheds to meet the needs of a growing population. In addition, the river at times was a serious flooding hazard, which led to it being re-routed to a fixed manmade course that featured concrete beds.

The concrete riverbeds help to conserve water in especially dry spells by preventing water from being absorbed into the earth. However, in turn, this destroyed much of the once-beautiful natural river ecosystems. Environmentalists encourage restoring the riverbeds to their original state to foster the return of wildlife to rebuild these ecosystems. There are even plans in the city’s future to implement parks along the riverbeds, so Angelenos can enjoy and appreciate where their water came from, and help to protect an essential part of the city’s history.

Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area ©Los Angeles District

Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Area | © Los Angeles District