Ballona Creek and its related wetlands is a nine-mile long waterway that drains water from the Santa Monica Mountains on the north, the Harbor Freeway on the east and the Baldwin Hills on the south. It begins in Rancho Las Cienegas, flows through Culver City and empties into Santa Monica Bay between Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey. Its wetlands is one of the last significant wetland areas in Southern California.
Originally a picturesque natural waterway fed by runoff, Ballona Creek collected water from cienegas (or swamps) and rainfall with native Sycamore trees, willows and watercress gracing its edge. Indigenous people known as Gabrielinos used Ballona Creek for transportation, food and shelter, utilizing the tule rush growing along the creek’s bed to make huts.
Circa 1820 a rancher by the name of Augustine Machado began grazing his cattle on the Ballona wetlands and claimed the 14,000 acre Mexican land grant which stretched from modern-day Culver City to Pico Blvd in Santa Monica. It is believed that the creek and wetlands are named for the Machado ranch, La Ballona - Paso de las Carretas, although the origin and meaning of Ballona remains a mystery. One theory is that the intended name was Ballena, which means whale in Spanish because at the mouth of Ballona Creek one can watch whales migrate. Another theory is that since Machado’s ancestors hailed from Bayona, Spain, the rancho was named in their honor.
Ballona Creek provided a source of irrigation water to early farmers who settled in the region and would become a popular location for the shooting of western movies around the turn of the 20th century. Ultimately, its often destructive flood waters sealed its fate as a channelized waterway. In the 1930s, the Army Corps of Engineers concreted Ballona Creek and its tributaries.
Together with community organizations and environmental groups, the City of Los Angeles is working to improve water quality in Southern California. Projects throughout the watershed are improving water quality by reducing the amount of pollution flowing into rivers and creeks that drain into Ballona Creek.