A Forgotten Creek Will Lead the Way

For nearly half a century, the North Atwater Creek has been all but forgotten. Set in the Glendale-Narrows portion of the Los Angeles River, this natural creek has become overgrown with non-native grasses and invasive exotic species such as the Mediterranean Castor oil plant. A man-made creek, the soil in its unstable banks is contaminated from decades of toxic runoff draining from an urban area. For decades, this polluted water has collected in stagnant pools at the base of the creek before being discharged into the LA River through four massive graffiti-ridden culverts.

Not exactly the image of a creek that will lead the Los Angeles River revitalization effort – or is it?

As the lead project for the City of Los Angeles’ proposed Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, the restoration of North Atwater Creek and expansion of North Atwater Park perfectly embodies the objectives of Los Angeles’ renewal of the river and is a microcosm of what the City hopes to achieve up and down the LA River’s 51 miles in years to come. Funded in part by Proposition 50 and undertaken in connection with the settlement of two Clean Water Act enforcement actions (Santa Monica Baykeeper v. City of Los Angeles and United States, and the State of California ex Rel. California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Los Angeles Region v. City of Los Angeles), the North Atwater Park Expansion and Creek Restoration project will use both structural and natural solutions to restore this natural creek and expand its park, simultaneously improving water quality and creating welcome green space for local residents and habitat for wildlife.

Polluted runoff flowing from the 40 acres of urban residential neighborhoods north of the creek is a major concern and to address that ongoing issue, the City will install a capturing device at the top of the creek to intercept trash and bacteria. Another issue that plagues the water quality in North Atwater Creek is the horse waste from equestrian facilities adjacent to the site. The project will work to develop site plans to better address the proper disposal of horse manure.

In addition to structural best management practices that will remove trash and bacteria, the project will also restore the creek and expand the adjacent park, which will improve the quality of life for both the local residents and native wildlife living close to North Atwater Creek. Birds like Black Phoebes and Blue Heron have always called the Los Angeles River their home and the renovation of North Atwater Creek, which will create additional habitat, will encourage these feathered friends to stop and rest a while along its banks. Likewise, the expansion of the park will encourage local residents to stop and enjoy the sights and sounds of North Atwater Creek. Recognizing that the renaissance of this creek provides the perfect opportunity to teach local residents about the Los Angeles River, watersheds and the manner in which structural best management practices and constructed wetlands work together here to improve water quality, the project will include an outdoor classroom gathering space and native demonstration garden providing educational opportunities. Interpretive signage dotting the park will further enhance visits by park goers.

So, while North Atwater Creek may not have not received much attention over the last few decades, that’s about to change. This coming winter, construction crews will begin working on North Atwater Creek, and the City forecasts having this project finished within a year, by winter 2011. And, in the process, a forgotten creek will lead the way – towards cleaner water, increased habitat for native birds and wildlife, new educational and recreational opportunities for local residents and a renaissance for the Los Angeles River.

Please join Councilman Tom LaBonge and officials from the Departments of Public Works, Recreation and Parks and Water and Power at the North Atwater Park Expansion and Creek Restoration Ground Breaking Ceremony, 2:00 p.m., Thursday, October 28, 2010, 3900 Chevy Chase Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90039.

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