Hanging with Friends of the Isar River
October 3, 2008 § Leave a comment
Tonight I attended a forum on the Isar River hosted by Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) and Goethe-Institut Los Angeles. These groups flew out a half dozen Germans who told of their successes in die Revitalisierung der Isar in München. The Isar River in Munich was channelized with concrete sides and has now been “renaturized”, with concrete removed, and both habitat and flood protection enhanced.
The forum began with introductions from FoLAR founder Lewis MacAdams and Munich Vice Mayor Hep Monatzeder (more on him below.) Then followed a brief promotional documentary film which showed how popular and successful the renewed Isar is. One interesting part of the film showed that, during recent excavation, they actually found unexploded bombs from World War 2. That’s one obstacle that we probably won’t have to face locally. Similar to the US Army Corps of Engineers they built large-scale models of the their river so they could test various scenarios that were difficult to model via computer. There was apparently a very tricky confluence that resisted computer modeling.
There were subsequent presentations by Ralf Wulf, head of Munich’s Engineering Department and Dr. Klaus Arzet, head of Munich’s Water Management Department (which seems to function somewhat analogously our regional water board – mainly charged with assuring waterway health.) Both of these civil servants came off as genuinely proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish on the Isar. They were fortunate to have a large grassy floodplain area along the river to work with – which they used to give the river channel a wider cross section (to do this in Los Angeles, we’ll need to purchase a lot of real estate – probably a good idea in today’s market, no?) They spoke of removing the concrete lining, but actually burying the broken concrete on-site as what they called “backward hidden protection” (basically the banks are still reinforced – the reinforcement is broken concrete riprap underground and further away from the river.) They were happy that fish ladders (built to bypass a flood control dyke) served well as wading pools for kids.
They were followed by Larry Hsu, of the L.A. City Bureau of Engineering, who presented an overview of the city’s Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan. Hsu has a lot of technical expertise, but wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as his German counterparts. The experts assembled then took plenty of questions from the audience. The Germans told the story of how they learned a great deal about the project when large storms hit the halfway-completed project in 2005. It held up well (with some minor damage to a pedestrian bridge) and it showed them how water behaved on the ground differently than it did in their computer simulations. When asked about economic benefits of the project and Dr. Arzet responded that the project wasn’t so much about getting the city a “pay off” but that the results were good because the “people are happy.”
As things were winding down, Lewis invited me to join some FoLAR folks and the German crew for dinner and drinks at Pete’s. I got a chance to talk more with Klaus Arzet and Ralf Wulf, who were very intrigued with why things have been done the way they have in Los Angeles. They’re both very charming and it seems like the project thrives on an excellent balance between their skills. Arzet is a water ecosystems scientist, Wulf a civil engineer. They both approach the project with a matter-of-factness – as in, of course, it was our job to make this all work.
I’ll close with my impessions of Vice Mayor Monatzeder (pictured below.) He’s a Green Party official whose long time in office has provided continuity for the multi-phase Isarplan project. When I asked him what accomplishments he was proud of, he spoke of the Isar’s transformation, but also of increasing bicycling’s modal share from 6% to 14% (by building bike paths, bike lanes, and even bike service stations) and for increasing use of renewable energy. Sounds like a lot of great work.
The Isar River team will be at FoLAR’s RioFest this Saturday night – rumored to feature all-you-can-eat bratwurst tacos. FoLAR will also be releasing its recently completed study on local fish. All this and music by Very Be Careful! Creek Freek wouldn’t miss it.