Our Fave 5 Facts about the LA River


We all know what it is, where it is and most of us even know what it does. It’s in the background of our city, but in many ways it’s the heart of LA. It flows through our communities and to the ocean we all enjoy and love. It’s none other than the Los Angeles River.

So what do we really know about the river aside from it being a concrete channel leading runoff to the ocean? Below is a handful of fun and interesting tidbits we thought you’d enjoy.

1. The Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe first inhabited the area near the river. They did so for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Gabrielino villages numbered over 45 and were located near the Los Angeles River, mostly in the San Fernando Valley.(1)

2. The LA River was at one time our city’s sole water supply.(2)

3. The LA River is the longest paved waterway in the world, running 51 miles out of the San Gabriel Mountains, through municipal jurisdictions (which includes 16 cities), and then flows into Long Beach Harbor. Click here to read about why impermeable surfaces are bad news for water quality.(3)

4. There are more than 120 crossings along the LA River’s entire reach.(4)

5. In 2008, the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR) documented eight types of fish living within the river: largemouth bass, green sunfish, tilapia, black bullhead, Amazon sailfish catfish, carp, fathead minnow and mosquitofish. Read our interview with FOLAR’s President, Shelly Backlar.(5)

What has been your experience with the LA River? Non-existent? Fond? Mixed? Let us know by scribbling your thoughts below and sharing your pics on our Facebook page.

(1) McCawley, William. 1996. The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles. Malki Museum Press, Banning, California. ISBN 0-9651016-1-4
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_River
(3) “Long Beach Shore: The LA River’s Dumping Ground”, Keith Higginbotham, Long Beach Post, May, 27, 2010
(4) Federal Highway Administration 2009 National Bridge Inventory (NBI)
(5) “2008 Los Angeles River Fish Study“. Friends of the Los Angeles River. www.folar.org.

*Photo courtesy of Sunset.com


Comments (14)

  1. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    Maria E. Hernandez
    November 12th, 2010 at 3:36 am

    Please, change Gabrileno Indians to Tongva. Gabrileno was the Spanish missionary name imposed on the Tongva. AND…they are not Indians!!!
    Maria E. Hernandez

  2. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    Oscar Lopithecus
    January 24th, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    The beautiful long green grass that covers the river bottom this time of year….where does it come from..are the seeds imbedded….please help.
    Thank You,

    • Avatar for LA Stormwater
      LA Stormwater
      January 24th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      Hi Oscar. Channelization removed most of the river’s vegetation. However, there is natural bed bottom in the Sepulveda Basin, Glendale Narrows and Compton Creek areas. To the best of our knowledge, these remaining soft-bottom sections of the river are native habitat, seeds are not embedded. For more information on the LA River check out http://folar.org/

  3. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    roxanne spear
    February 21st, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Is part of the mission of the concrete channel to keep the clean waters of the aquifir from upwelling into the channel and emptying into Long Beach Harbor?

    • Avatar for LA Stormwater
      LA Stormwater
      February 23rd, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      Hi Roxanne,

      The original storm drain system was developed in 1930 by the Army Corps of Engineers. As the City began to grow rapidly in the 1920s and 1930s, rainwater that was once absorbed by miles of undeveloped land began to run off the newly paved and developed areas, leading to an increased amount of water flowing into Los Angeles’ rivers and local creeks. These waterways could not contain the increased amount of water and the region experienced extensive flooding. In response, the Army Corp of Engineers lined the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek with concrete and initiated the development of an underground urban drainage system. As Los Angeles continued to grow, a complex drainage system developed.

  4. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    roxanne spear
    February 21st, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Where can I find facts about source waters entering the Los Angeles River? I’m wondering how much is reclammed water and how much is stormwater, streetwater, etc.? Thanks.

    • Avatar for LA Stormwater
      LA Stormwater
      February 23rd, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      Hi Roxanne,

      Most of the water that now enters the Los Angeles River year-round is from the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in the Sepulveda Basin. Up to 75 million gallons of treated water are released daily into the river. That water is undrinkable but is treated well enough so that it presents no health hazards. However the storm drains along the various cities down river carry all kinds of contaminates into the river.

      Approximately 85% of the River’s flow is tertiary-treated effluent from two sources: the City’s Los Angeles-Glendale and Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plants. This effluent is filtered, chlorinated to kill viruses and bacteria. Before being released into the LARiver, this water is dechlorinated to remove toxic chlorine by-products. Groundwater from underground aquifers originating in the San Fernando Valley make up the remaining 5% of the LA River’s flow.

      Hope this helps you out!

  5. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    roxanne spear
    March 22nd, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Could a double box culvert like they have installed on the Guadelupe River in San Jose help to chanel stormwater to Long Beach, so that the Los Angeles River could have more naturalized river banks in places? Thanks.

  6. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    joe maggio
    July 17th, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    I just walked along the L.A. River from Los Feliz Blvd to close to Colorado. It is so full of life(including lots of invasive plants)! I teach 10th grade Biology and I was wondering if a class of 100 or so can walk the river as a class on this same route? If so, where may buses park?

    • Avatar for LA Stormwater
      LA Stormwater
      July 18th, 2012 at 8:43 am

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, that particular portion of the LA River is teeming with life and is quite beautiful. People are allowed to walk along the LA River; however, I’m not certain of where you would be able to park buses and then access the river easily. I would recommend you contact two organizations, the Friends of the LA River (www.folar.org) and The River Project (www.theriverproject.org). Both organizations have done work with taking groups of people along (and into) the LA River and can probably give you some good advice. On another note, Coastal Clean-up Day is coming up on September 15 and Heal the Bay typically has a clean-up site along the LA River. A clean-up would be an excellent way to get your students involved in making a difference.

  7. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    roxanne spear
    August 20th, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Hi all,
    If the Los Angeles River concrete was removed for three miles, say, down in North Long Beach at Compton Creek, could the river’s edge be naturalized in a way that would look aesthetically pleasing, and still keep erosion to a minimum during peak storm events?

    • Avatar for LA Stormwater
      LA Stormwater
      August 21st, 2012 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks so much for your question, Roxanne! The Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan deals with exactly that issue – exploring ways to return the splendor of the LA River while maintaining flood protection and safety. You can read more about the LA River Revitalization Master Plan at http://www.lariver.org.

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