Springs hope…eternally

May 1, 2009 § 16 Comments


Water bubbles up at Kuruvungna Springs in Los Angeles

Water bubbles up at Kuruvungna Springs in Los Angeles

Spring relief drains in Silverlake

Spring relief drains in the Silverlake area.

The stream mapping is complete,  but that image of a stream’s flow spilling over and down a road stays with me, challenging the conventional wisdom about “urban slobber.”  If you’ve ever been out to the Kuruvungna Springs at University High School in West LA, you’d know that springs gush forth thousands of gallons of water every day, and this water doesn’t stay on site – what used to feed a stream now flows into a storm drain that feeds into the Sepulveda Channel and then Ballona Creek.  Other springs on site are directly capped, with only a manhole cover to hint at its presence.  So it’s not just headwater drainages whose flows get lost to these underground conveyances, it is also springs, and yep, LA still has some.

Old stormdrain maps sometimes can offer clues to the capped springs.  This image here is of a “spring relief” area in the Silverlake/Franklin Hills area.  I have seen a few – not many – of these areas on these old maps.  

Don’t get me wrong – plenty of urban slobber really is overspray from urban slobs.  But if we manage the springs’ flows that way, we miss something essential and precious about our native ecosystem, and we miss out on opportunities to restore pockets of habitat in the city. And you know, springs hope eternally.


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§ 16 Responses to Springs hope…eternally

  • Will Campbell says:

    I’ve never heard of this place. Is it accessible to the public or restricted due to its location on school property?

  • Jessica Hall says:

    The Springs are under the care of the Tongva/Gabrielino Springs Foundation. They open them up for public viewing once a year (Columbus Day weekend) and also sometimes make them available upon request. They have been working on a lovely native wetlands spring restoration with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains (which I’ll probably do a post on soon) and the springs looked great last time I was there. If you get permission to the playground area of the campus, you can see some springs near the ballfield that cascade down a little man-made waterfall – and into the stormdrain.

  • Thanks for the info. Looks like I’ll know where I’ll be next Columbus Day!

  • David says:

    I was near University HS today (5/3/09), and your post inspired me to go check out the springs. To be honest, even as an LAUSD teacher myself at another high school, I was really surprised by the lack of care given to the facility where the lower springs are located.

    The water was in fact bubbling up quite visibly and then running through a man-made water course. It feed into a drainage area in the south west corner of the area, but the drain seemed to be blocked (maybe by the abundant algae or trash/debris). So there was a large flow of water spilling out onto the athletic field. A “stream” was cutting a rather large rut into the dirt track and then disappearing into a storm drain – folks this a LOT of wasted water. With little engineering, all the water could probably be used to irrigate the entire athletic field facility.

    But back to the springs. It was shocking that the area around the springs was not gardened and manicured more nicely, or perhaps I should just say at all since it looked like no one had done much to up keep the area in a long time. And all this with a natural water source.

    There is a shack like building near the facility had a valve set up for a hose attachment – within yards of a natural water source. But, alas, it appeared as if no gardener was on duty to utilize any water source.

    Lastly, I left the area depressed because if a government entity that dresses itself up at being so progressive (LAUSD) isn’t going to be responsible with upkeeping and utilizing what could be such an amazing space, then what?

    P.S. Jessica, you should organize a field trip to visit the springs sometime. It would be nice to meet other people that care and organize something to mobilize a demand for better care and use of the area around the springs and the water the springs give.

  • David says:

    Will, entry is restricted by fences, but if you weigh less than 170, you can slip through the fence where there is a loosely chained gate. There was at least 3 open entrances onto the campus on a Sunday. Probably any Saturday or Sunday, you could take your own private tour.

  • Shelley Luce says:

    I just wanted to let Creek Freak readers know that the SMBRC will soon re-start the historical ecology project for Ballona watershed. This project is a result of conversations with Jessica, in which we’ll expand on her work creating historical maps of streams and springs. We’ll choose some of those hopeful springs and create restoration plans, then use the plans to try to get funding to fix them up. I want to thank Jessica again for enlightening me and so many others about the neglected natural water in our local watersheds! Even the City of LA is paying attention now, as they try to figure out how to meet their newest water quality requirements. Go Creek Freak!

  • Jessica Hall says:

    Thanks, everyone for your lively comments. And special thanks to Shelley, for taking on the springs mapping project idea!

  • Phill Birtles says:

    I think it would be a little sad to use the spring to water the playing fields. This is good base flow for the Creek (not just part of the rainfall spike associated with urban areas) and important for the in-channel ecosystem.

    I would focus attention on campaining for daylighting of the pipe it flows into. Dry creeks are a hard sell but this on would have permanent flow!

  • Will Campbell says:

    Thanks David, but at 6’2″ and 220 it looks there will be no fence slipping for me!

  • Jessica Hall says:

    I should add that the limited access to the ponded, restored area of springs is in part because they are a sacred site (and the school site a former Tongva village).

  • Will Campbell says:

    Which I fully respect and would even if my stature allowed me to fit through any openings.

  • Joe Linton says:

    I confess that I haven’t been to Kuruvungna Springs yet… but I wanted to mention that I am 6’3″ and 260lbs… and have done my share of fence-hopping and “private tours”… though it is important to be respectful… especially at sites like this one. In my early days with FoLAR (back in the 1990’s) we used to call bolt-cutters the “keys”!

  • David says:

    Jessica, it may be designated by some bureaucrats as a scared site, but it is most certainly not being treated as such. If something is scared to some group, it should be treated as such with actions rather than words.

    On a side note, there is very limited evidence that this is an actual “scared” sight. There is no written evidence and extremely sparse archeological evidence. If anyone can provide evidence to the contrary, I would be very interested (and open-minded) to see it.

    I am not saying the site is not important to Native American history, but I strongly disagree with the idea of locking the place up except for once a year on Columbus day.

    The restricted access smells to me more like a deal of political convenience: pacify potentially difficult Tongva activists and unburden the University High and LAUSD admin. from dealing with the site, while still keeping control of the property.

  • Joe Linton says:

    I think David means “sacred” not “scared”

  • David says:

    Sorry about the misspelling.

    Here is a link to the legislation that establishes the site. It certainly does not read as if the spirit of the legislation was to have the area accessible only once a year:


    Only an opinion, I could be wrong.

  • David says:

    I have got some information from a teacher at University H.S. The lower springs are open during the school day and many students do go there for lunch. There is also a classroom that is used in the building that is located in the lower springs site. This is an agriculture class. Apparently, the ag. class used to garden the site, but recently the foundation director told them not to do this. LAUSD has a gardening crew as well, but they were also told not to garden at the lower springs site.

    I am glad to know that the site is at least open to students if not the community.

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