Paddle the LA River Interview with LA Stormwater Staff


At the end of September, the 2012 Paddle the LA River Program wrapped up its second year, making history by providing first-time kayaking tours along a 1.5-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River. What began as a pilot program in 2011 to provide a non-motorized boating experience on the Los Angeles River at the Sepulveda Recreation Basin has become a global phenomenon, sparking world wide media coverage and educating tens of millions of people about the beautiful ecosystem that is our Los Angeles River.

This past summer nine LA Stormwater staff members participated in the Paddle the LA River Program. The trip was organized by The River Project in coordination with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. LA Stormwater recently sat down with Oscar Figueroa, Ryan Thiha and Jeff Zimmitti, three of the LA Stormwater staff members who kayaked the river, to learn more about what motivated them to go on this trip, what surprised them about kayaking the LA River, and how this trip affected the work they do on a daily basis to keep pollutants out of our rivers, creeks, lakes and bays.

 LA Stormwater: Why did WPD staff go on this exploratory kayak trip on the Los Angeles River?

Oscar Figueroa: Now that the LA River has been opened to the public to use, it has become more and more necessary for the City staff responsible for helping to maintain these resources to understand and experience the river as the public would.  A few of our staff members are experts in the fields of trash or sediments. We thought it would be a good idea to have them see firsthand the pollutants they are working to control in the LA River. Many times staff is asked how our programs are working – Are we eliminating trash from the river and are things getting better? Paddling the LA River allowed staff to better answer these questions and helped staff to understand the public’s concerns.

LA Stormwater: What personally motivated you to go on this kayak trip down the LA River?

Jeff Zimmitti: I have lived on the east side of Los Angeles for more than two decades and my exposure to the Los Angeles River has always been the cement-lined portion. I was curious to see and experience the natural part of the river.

Oscar Figueroa: Working to protect the waterways in our urban landscape brings me fulfillment, but I also have a need to see these locations that we are helping to protect.  I knew that seeing the locations that we create maps for and see test samples for would rejuvenate my desire to work even harder for this cause.

LA Stormwater: What wildlife did you see on your trip?

Ryan Thiha: I saw a few Snowy Egrets and a Swift or Swallow nest made out of plastic fibers instead of reeds and grass.

Jeff Zimmitti: I also saw several bird species including Egrets and Herons. I noticed various fish, in a variety of sizes, mostly visible in the water that was less than two feet deep.

LA Stormwater: What surprised you most about this kayak trip?

Oscar Figueroa: I was actually surprised at the lack of trash that we saw.  Yes, there was some trash but nothing along the lines of what I was expecting to see from 100 square miles of urban landscape.  This made me smile and think that we have a good handle on the requirements of the Trash Total Maximum Daily Load (or TMDL).

Jeff Zimmitti: I was surprised at how tranquil the setting was. You really do not feel like you are in the middle of a thriving metropolis. I was also struck by how smooth the water was. 

 LA Stormwater: What was the water quality/quantity like?

Ryan Thiha: The water quality seemed pretty good. There was a decent level of clarity and the water was the appropriate temperature. The water level seemed typical for this time of the year – late summer.

Oscar Figueroa: The water was cool and clear for the entire trip, and for many portions when covered by the trees, I forgot that I was at the center of one of the world’s largest urban expanses.

Would you do this again or recommend it to other?

Ryan Thiha: I would definitely do this again and recommend it to others!

Oscar Figueroa: I think that everyone who is involved in the effort to clean water should take this trip!

Jeff Zimmitti: Take the trip next year!

Did you paddle the Los Angeles River this year? Now that the season has ended, Paddle the LA River is welcoming feedback and comments from those that did. You can comment on your experience at the Paddle the LA River Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers, Ryan Thiha and Jeff Zimmitti.


Comments (4)

  1. Ellen Stern
    October 18th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    This is actually a question. My husband and I own a canoe. Are private parties now allowed to paddle in the Sepulveda Basin area and if not, do you have any idea when this will be permissible?

    • LA Stormwater
      October 18th, 2012 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks for the question, Ellen. While the Los Angeles River is now considered a navigable waterway, you can’t go into the river without an official permit from the US Army Corps. Currently, recreational boating is not allowed on the river and those caught on the river without a permit may be cited. I would recommend contacting Paddle the LA River at to talk to someone about when recreational boating may be allowed on the LA River.

  2. ana aldana
    November 13th, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    i would like to kayaking next year with my kids but I would like to know if we have to bring our own kayaks or if we can rent. also if can I have directions to get there

    • LA Stormwater
      November 15th, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Great to hear that you’re interested in paddling the LA River next year. You do not need to bring your own kayaks but your kids do need to be at least 10 years old. We recommend you visit for more information. Good luck and enjoy your trip down the LA River next year!

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