Find the Stream in your Neighborhood

by Joe Linton

People often ask me what they can do to get involved in helping out Los Angeles’ rivers and creeks. Many ways to get involved have been covered here at the L.A. Stormwater Blog – some easy, some more involved. These include: using reusable grocery bags, tending to your pet’s poop, participating in clean-up events, harvesting rainwater, planting a creek-friendly landscape in your yard and working to green your street. Some other ways that Jessica Hall and I have written about at our blog L.A. Creek Freak include: riding your bicycle, re-using greywater, and protecting our more natural streams.

One project that we creek freaks strongly recommend is researching and visiting your local creek.

Many people ask Lewis MacAdams, founder of the Friends of the Los Angeles River, how they can get involved. His response is generally along the lines of “go down to the river and walk along it and listen.” I think that this is excellent advice; seeing the Los Angeles River and making a visceral connection with it is an important step in working toward its health.

Not everyone reading this article lives near the L.A. River, though. If you’re in the city of Los Angeles, you may live nearer to Compton Creek, Caballero Creek, Centinela Creek or many many others. The hillsides and alluvial plains where Angelenos settled (the Tongva and Chumash before them) had quite an assortment of streams and wetlands; some ran year-round, some intermittent.

I recommend that folks figure out what watershed you live or work in; try to understand the creek that receives the rainwater that runs off your roof or your yard.

Your local creek might be all concrete. It might be underground. It might have a Native American name or a Spanish name… it might not even have a name, at least not one that’s easy to find. If it’s a small creek without a formal recorded name, you might try naming it yourself, at least provisionally.

Using the resources listed below, and talking with your neighbors, find the creek in your neighborhood. Take a look at historical maps that show where your creek was. Then track it down historical photos to see what it looked like.

Walk, bike or drive to where it is now. Follow it to learn where it flows. Even if it’s buried underground, you can spot signs on the surface, including dips, slopes and drains. See what river it feeds, and where it empties into the ocean. Along the way, you might run into other people following their creeks, too.

As you understand more where your runoff goes, and what it impacts, you’ll likely feel more connected – and you may get more involved in taking actions, big or small, that help to heal your waterways.

Some suggested resources to help with finding your creek:

Find a former waterway or wetland near you (at L.A. Creek Freak – includes plenty of historical maps – by Jessica Hall)

The Lost Streams of Los Angeles (L.A. Weekly)

Navigate L.A. (City of L.A. infrastructure mapping – good for locating where underground drainages flow today)

Historic Photo Collection (Los Angeles Public Libary)

Sacatela Creek and the Bimini Slough in my Koreatown neighborhood (at L.A. Creek Freak – by Joe Linton)

About the Author:

Joe Linton is a Los Angeles author, artist, and activist. He wrote and illustrated the guidebook Down by the Los Angeles River, published by Wilderness Press in 2005. He contributes regularly to the blog L.A. Creek Freak. He currently works to organize Los Angeles’ CicLAvia car-free festivals. He gratefully acknowledges Jessica Hall’s and Lewis MacAdams’ ideas as forming the basis for this article.

*Photos courtesy of LA Creek Freak

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Comments (2)

  1. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    Janis Hatlestad
    February 11th, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks for the interesting post, and good luck to you and your colleagues with creek mapping and protecting! A couple of bits of information might be of interest:
    Canoga Avenue under Ventura Freeway intersection used to flood like crazy, before storm drain improvements in the mid-’80s. (I live about a mile “upstream”.) One weekend in winter 1980, I saw a couple of guys in wetsuits kayaking down my street. Seems plausible we at least had some seasonal something flowing off the hills, right through our ‘hood.
    Grew up in Torrance — “Lake Walteria” area, north of PCH between Anza Ave. and Calle Mayor. Played in the swamp where a large apartment complex was built around ’65, just west of South High School.

    • Avatar for LA Stormwater
      LA Stormwater
      February 12th, 2011 at 11:00 am

      Thanks for your support Janis, and thanks for sharing your watershed story with us! It’s nice to hear that the storm drain improvements have helped the environment.

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