Stormdrains from Tar Pits to Ballona

December 7, 2011 § 5 Comments

Los Angeles County Storm Drains in Google Earth

Since this post about tar on Ballona seems to have generated a lot of interest, I thought I’d also provide you with an image of LA County Storm Drains from the Tar Pits connecting to Ballona Creek.  The oil sheen I referred to in my previous post is visible at Cochran Avenue, at the upper end of the blue line representing Ballona Creek here.  As mentioned in my prior post, if tar is coming into the creek from the tar pits, it should be apparent downstream between Marvin and La Cienega (I had previously said Fairfax).  As you can see here, there are a tangle of drains, which I assume means there are overflows built into them from one drain to the next.  Very large drains outlet at Fairfax and La Cienega, bringing in flows from as far north as Beverly Hills and West Hollywood (and the south slopes of the Hollywood Hills beyond them).  And as many know, there are active oil wells in this zone, so it is fair to speculate there can be tar in these neighborhoods too.  While my photos clearly show tar seeping in from above Cochran Ave, I perhaps should clarify that there could be other sources related to other occurrences (that I’m unfamiliar with) on Ballona Creek.  There’s tar to go around for all of us!

If you’re kind of an infrastructure nerd and don’t know about Navigate LA yet, by all means you should poke around this fun site.  I’d have used their maps to explain this better, but alas, my browser no longer supports it.


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§ 5 Responses to Stormdrains from Tar Pits to Ballona

  • david rowley says:

    Everybody, Go to and the map gallery then stormwater maps. You will look at your neighborhood in an entirely different light. A great topo map that shows where the springs in your area used to flow, now all connected to the storm drains flowing out to sea. An amazing unused resourse. Most of the springs are on earthquake faults so stop worrying about the wind and get ready to rock and roll! rocket

  • -n says:

    A (large-ish) map of mid-city stormdrains adapted from the NavigateLA site can be found here. Green lines show city tunnels, while blue lines show county tunnels. There are indeed many overflows and interconnections, though not all of them are obvious from the map, nor are all tunnels shown. For instance, the tunnel with the largest amount of tar I’ve seen (ladders and other metal fixtures coated in tar and garbage up to heights of eight feet or so) enters the creek underneath Dauphin, just east of La Cienega. I assume that this connects to one of the branches that is shown on the map, which drains (or drained) the overflow from the tar pits. Though there are many natural seeps in the area, it’s hard to imagine that tar coating the walls during a storm came from a regular old seep, so overflow from the tar pits would seem to be the simplest explanation.

  • Jessica Hall says:

    My understanding is that the issue with the Tar Pits was resolved with a temporary fix in 2006, the $2m project is to put in a permanent solution – and there’ve not been any overflows since 2006.

    Dauphin is one of the branches that has overflows leading from the Tar Pits. The photos from a commenter showing tar oozing on the LA River leads me to believe seeps through the concrete culverts is entirely possible, as are overflows from apartment/parking garage basement sump pumps, oil wells, etc. The extent over coverage that you describe sounds like there’s an impressive supply.

    • -n says:

      Yes, seeps, sump pumps etc. are also possible sources of tar. I don’t mean to detract from that point. Seeps will seep, as is their wont. My reasoning is just that since there have been documented overflows from the Tar Pits, they seem like the most likely source of the extensive tar in that particular branch (which is not to say that they are responsible for any persistent oily sheens on the creek today).

      As you say, the $2m project sounds like it is designed to fix a specific problem related to the Tar Pits. It might be unfair to describe it as a “boondoggle” as some have, but it does seems like someone more in the know ought to clarify the expected impact of the project relative to the rest of the sources throughout the watershed (I’m too lazy to search for it just now, but I assume there has been or will be some kind of EIR for this thing?).

      • Jessica Hall says:

        Yeah, I don’t know that it’s a boondoggle, so much as I feel cranky about the fact that restoration isn’t taken seriously but we’ll concoct underground tombs to detain and filter stormwater runoff that is also conveyed underground. It’s a single-service solution that requires a whole lot of infrastructure. A dense population gets no additional usable parkland out of it, wildlife remains extirpated…etc. Another poster observed that hydrocarbons break down in wetland environments, and as I mentioned in this case are part of the background condition of this watershed. I don’t want to endorse contaminants in the watershed, but I also want us to be reintegrating ecology and habitat into urban areas, and for me that means having a better understanding of the interplay between this naturally-occuring contaminant and a potentially restored system. Stand that against an underground detainment system and see what the benefits and management strategies are?

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