Reflections on River Access

October 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Sepulveda Basin: Great Blue Heron and Kayakers, Summer (painting by Joan Wolfe ©2012)

As the heat of summer slowly (hopefully) begins to wind down, so too has the second season of the pioneering L.A. River kayak and canoe excursions. The final group dropped into the River this past Sunday, an undoubtedly leisurely paddle between willows and sycamores, shopping carts and plastic bags. The 2012 installment hosted approximately 2,000 participants, an impressive increase from 2011, when the count for the pilot program was 260. The number of outfits operating on the River has also doubled and now includes Paddle the L.A. River (organized by L.A. Conservation Corps, MRCA, The River Project, FoLAR and Urban Semillas) and L.A. River Expeditions (organized by George Wolfe and the San Joaquin River Stewardship Program). I had the pleasure of paddling with both groups as a guest educator (thanks to Melanie Winter and George Wolfe for getting me out there!), a journey every Angeleno within reach of a buoyant non-motorized vessel should be able to experience at least once. « Read the rest of this entry »

SCOPE hosts Heather Wylie talk on L.A. River 3/19

March 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment is having a special meeting Saturday, March 19th with guest speaker Heather Wylie talking about her participation in the Los Angeles River kayaking trip that proved its navigability. Creek Freak blogger Joe Linton was also part of that excursion.

Here’s the deet’s:

WHEN: Saturday, March 19th, 2PM

WHERE: St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Spurling Hall Community Room, 24901 Orchard Village Rd. Valencia, CA 91355

Refreshments will be served – Regular Business meeting to follow speaker

More info: 661 255-6899


Not Necessarily Narrowly Navigability

August 9, 2010 § 8 Comments

Navigable, yes, not quite the navigable river that we have in mind. Tom Andrews photo of 2008 Los Angeles River expedition - from LAist

Here at L.A. Creek Freak, we’re very excited about the EPA’s determination that the Los Angeles River is navigable and is protected fully under the Clean Water Act. It’s a welcome decision, strongly supported by the river’s pastpresent, and planned future. The determination got the L.A. Times out kayaking the river (watch their excellent video!) and sparked off mayoral, journalistic, and advocate discussions of the river’s bright future.

But… the whole navigability test is… unfortunately… a bit limited.

Is navigability the right test for what streams deserve federal Clean Water Act (CWA) protection? Is the Clean Water Act all we need to restore rivers, creeks, and watersheds? Does a narrow focus on improving water quality get us to a goal of healthy creek and stream ecosystems? 

« Read the rest of this entry »

News and Events – 13 July 2010

July 13, 2010 § 2 Comments

LAist photo of George Wolfe navigating the L.A. River. For more navigability stuff, watch the Rock the Boat movie and read lots of coverage - links and details below.


> From 3pm to 5pm this Thursday July 15th 2010 join the Village Gardeners and TreePeople to trim and mulch native vegetation on the L.A. River in Sherman Oaks. Event details here.

> Watch the film about the 2008 Kayak expedition that proved that the L.A. River is navigable today! Rock the Boat screens this Friday July 16th 2010 at the Audbon Center at Debs Park. That’s at 4700 Griffin Avenue in Highland Park, easy walk from the Southwest Museum Metro Gold Line Station. Birding walk at 6:45pm. At 8pm two films screen.  First: Paddle to the Sea – a short film based on the classic children’s book. Second: Rock the Boat. Admission is free – though donations for Rock the Boat will be accepted. More event information at Audubon and Facebook.

> From 8am to 3pm this Sunday July 17th, Jenny Price leads a Hidden L.A. car caravan tour of the Los Angeles River. Features tacos and cream puffs. More information and registration here.

> **UPDATED – POSTPONED SEE COMMENT BELOW The city of Los Angeles LID (Low Impact Development) ordinance will be heard at the 9am Tuesday July 20th 2010 meeting of the city council’s Energy and Environment Committee, which takes place room 1010 on the 10th floor at Los Angeles City Hall. Background on LID here and here. Committee agenda will be here, once posted (should be up Friday this week.) Follow the LID city council motion 09-1554 here, including RSS feed. 


> Another excellent L.A. River documentary is now available online. Watch The River Under the City of Angels by Fred Kaplan (27 minutes, 2010.) It’s very personal and poignant, with lots of great footage from all up and down the Los Angeles River, plus interview footage with Lewis MacAdams, Ed Reyes, Carol Armstrong, Scott Wilson, Jenny Price and others. Well worth watching!

> There’s a lot of coverage of last week’s big Los Angeles River navigability announcement. The L.A. Times‘ Louis Sahagun has the best coverage. Yes, better than L.A. Creek Freak… though I think we got the news online slightly earlier and we also covered the actual source documents, and the planned park on Compton Creek. After creek freak’s really quick video of EPA’s Lisa Jackson’s announcement, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s folks posted much better quality edited video here.
Some worthwhile coverage:  KPCC radio has excellent audio. Other good reads at Chance of Rain, High Country News, Ballona Blog, Curbed L.A., LAist, River NetworkModern Hiker, and even Mayor Villaraigosa himself pens a piece at Huffington Post. For the sort of  “Navigable? Are you kidding?” response, check ProfessorBainbridge and Legal Planet.

> The Pasadena City Council met last night to consider building soccer fields at Hahamongna nature park. We’re hoping to report more on this as we get more news (or to link to a full account), but the council voted 4-3 to proceed with fields at the site. Read Creek Freak background on the issue here and visit Save Hahamongna to get news and get involved. 

> Dredging Today “dedicated to dredging” reports that Dutra Dredging has been awarded a $1.3M contract for dredging the Los Angeles River estuary. Your federal stimulus funds at work.

> The White House and GOOD magazine like Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale. L.A. Creek Freak was there in April 2010!

On Nexus and Navigability: Part 6 – Navigability Now

July 10, 2010 § 4 Comments

Excerpt from EPA L.A. River Navigability Letter - full text below

With the above forty-one words restoring disputed federal protections to the Los Angeles River, it’s been a pretty excellent week for local creeks and their human friends. The federal navigability and protection issues were very hot when this blog was getting started back in mid-2008, so it’s a treat to see them resolved this week. We thought we’d do some wrap-up with some of the primary documents behind this week’s announcement and then a round-up of what we’ve written about the issue before. (Also, next week, we’re hoping to do some editorializing about what the determination means for the future… and why navigability as a test for federal protection for clean water may not be the best way forward for healthy creeks.)

First off, the actual document that states that the entire L.A. River is navigable – a 6 July 2010 letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District District Engineer Colonel Mark Toy :

« Read the rest of this entry »

Big News: EPA Designates L.A. River as Navigable!

July 7, 2010 § 24 Comments

Today, standing along the soft-bottom Compton Creek, the federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson proclaimed that the EPA is designating “the entire L.A. River as traditional navigable waters.”  In the video above, the announcement comes at about 1:55 and the crowd cheers! Jackson continues stating that this means “the entire 51-mile watershed is protected” and “that areas like Compton Creek will have the full protection of our nation’s clean water law.”

More below on other great news from the press conference, and more of Jackson’s remarks.

« Read the rest of this entry »

News and Events – 12 June 2009

June 12, 2009 § 2 Comments

Rachel Garcia as the Great Blue Heron in Touch the Water, costume design by Soojin Lee - Photo copywright John Luker

Rachel Garcia as the Great Blue Heron in Cornerstone Theater's L.A. River Play Touch the Water, costume design by Soojin Lee - Photo copywright John Luker


Shishir Kurup and Joe Linton in Touch the Water - Photo copywright John Luker

Shishir Kurup and Joe Linton in Touch the Water - Photo copywright John Luker (enter your humorous caption in comments!)

> “Touch ze water, man”  Cornerstone Theater‘s Touch the Water is showing NOW, and continues Wednesday through Sunday through June 21st ( this weekend and next weekend only!)  Come and see your creek freak blogger Joe Linton’s dramatic debut and what the LA Weekly describes as including a “stunning moment of spine-tingling magic that is the raison d’etre of site-specific theater.”   Most performances include pre-play river walks, lead by local creek freaks including Jenny Price, Robert Garcia, Miguel Luna and others.  Make reservations online at the Cornerstone website.  Here are a few suggestions for theater-goers:

(For my handful of loyal readers:  I promise to blog more once this production is over!)

> The Pacific American Volunteer Association and Anahuak Youth Sports Organization host a Los Angeles River clean-up this Saturday June 13th via Green L.A. Girl.

> Author and Urban Ranger Jenny Price, after leading her pre-play walk this Friday, will lead Friends of the Los Angeles River’s tour of the Lower Los Angeles River on Sunday June 14th.


> Per the Long Beach Press-Telegram, L.A. County Supervisors have voted to proceed with a Compton Creek Master Plan.

The Glendale News Press reports that Disney is being sued for alledgedly polluting the river-adjacent Polliwog Parcel.  Polliwog is a remnant piece of Griffith Park stranded north of the Los Angeles River when the river was straightened.  The site has been discussed as part of a future Los Angeles River greenway (though today most of the site is separated from the river by the 134 Freeway.)

Relief from the Concrete lets us know that the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the San Gabriel River Discovery Center has been released and is now open for comments.

According to Science Dude, the San Gabriel River’s sea turtles appear to have established a year-round colony.

LAist talks bull on Army Corps restoration of Bull Creek in the Sepulveda Basin, and talks trash about L.A.’s storm drain covers.

W Roscoe (with my friend Federico) explores the Ballona Creek underground.

Some new video coverage of local waterways:

Some creeky new blogs:

Lastly, probably off topic, but about water at least:  see this WaterWired post on a water-computer used to predict changes in the economy.  It’s both elegant and Rube-Goldberg – follow the link on the blog to watch the video.

a river koan

December 17, 2008 § 1 Comment

No Boating, No Swimming, No Wading, No Guru, No Master, No Teacher (from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission website)

No Boating, No Swimming, No Wading, No Teacher, No Guru, No Master (from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission website)

This week’s puzzle comes from listener David Smith of the San Francisco office of the Environmental Protection Agency. He’s in town and posed the question at tonight’s meeting about Los Angeles River navigability.

A hint: in determining navigability, the EPA considers four factors:

1 – Is there enough water to float a boat?

2 – Is there a history of boating?

3 – Can the public access the waterbody?

4 – Are there plans for improvements in the future that would increase boating?

News and Upcoming Events – December 12 2008

December 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

Lots of fun things happening these days on our local creeks and streams! We’ve varied our format, because there are two important meetings next week that you won’t want to miss:

The city’s proposed River Improvement Overlay or “RIO” zoning (Creek Freak coverage here) will be the subject of a public hearing on Monday December 15th at 8am at Los Angeles City Hall, Room 1020, 200 North Spring Street, Los Angeles 90012 (entrance is on Main Street.)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling on whether the Los Angeles River is navigable will be subject of meeting hosted by Friends of the Los Angeles River at 5:30pm on Tuesday December 16th at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens, Atrium Room, 570 W. Avenue 26, Los Angeles 90065. The EPA’s David Smith will be present. If you made it through Creek Freak’s 4-part magnum opus on Nexus and Navigability, you’ll no doubt want to attend!

And there’s the recent news:

Kayaker Case Settled: Heather Wylie kayaked the LA River and was threatened with suspension from her job as a biologist for the Army Corps of Engineers. Earlier this week, she settled her case. She’ll be leaving her job and going to law school with plans to become an environmental attorney. Read the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility press release here, and for some background on the case, check Creek Freak’s earlier coverage. Important hearing on navigability next week – see below.

Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council)

Earthen Bottom Stretch of Compton Creek (Photo: Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council)

Comtpon Creek Flowing: The city of Compton and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority are moving forward with the Compton Creek greenway. Read the Los Angeles Wave’s coverage.

Green Advocate Empowered: Mayor Villaraigosa has appointed Green L.A. head Jonathan Parfrey to the 5-member Department of Water Power Commission. Parfrey is a friend of mine, the executive director of Green L.A. Coalition, and a committed and knowledgable environmentalist. Read the LA Times’ blog.

Land Swap Troubled: Remember that Long Beach land swap (Creek Freak coverage here) that preserves the Los Cerritos wetlands? Well, the down economy is impacting it, and the developer is looking to back out. Read Long Beach Press Telegram coverage.

Trout Passage Bridged: Though the fish apparently like it, some Malibu residents are unhappy with the reworking of the Solstice Creek Bridge. Read The Malibu Times’ coverage.

San Gabriel Fished: A new Urban Fly Fishing blog tells us the sweet fishing spots on the San Gabriel River.

Economic Stimulus Greened: In this LA Times editorial, TreePeople’s founder Andy Lipkis urges us to make sure that the federal economic stimulus infrastructure projects are smart and green.

Blue is Green: This New York Times blog proclaims that “blue is the new green” and has some beautiful images of green roofs and walls, water harvesting and gray water.
Río* from B a s t a r d i l l a on Vimeo.

Río Bogota Blues-ed: This video from the band Aterciopelados re-imagines the polluted urban Río Bogota. It’s full of beautiful animated drawings by the grafitti artist Bastardilla. (Thanks to correspondent Federico via the Wooster Collective blog.)

and, lastly, an annoucement:

Creek Freak wants you! If you’re interested in volunteering to help LA Creek Freak get the word out about LA’s worthwhile waters, let us know. We’re looking for guest bloggers that can cover subjects that Jessica and I can’t get to. Also, much needed are photographers! If you can let us use your existing river images, or can go out and photograph sites that we’re writing about, let us know. Email us at lacreekfreak {at} gmail . com!

Of Nexus and Navigability: Part 4 – Action Alert: Tell the EPA to Protect the LA River and Tributaries

December 3, 2008 § 1 Comment


Creek Freak readers have finally arrived at the fourth and as-of-yet-final part in our series on the navigability of the Los Angeles River, and how that affects the protection that our local waters are afforded under the federal Clean Water Act.  This is the episode where you dear reader get to participate!  If you’ve missed out on any part of the scintillating series, by all means use the links below to refresh your memory.  If you’re an action-oriented person who doesn’t want to read through another excessively verbose Creek Freak blog, just skip to the bottom and write your letter/email!

Part 1 – Of Nexus and Navigability, a lament for our waterways
Part 2 – Journalistic Journeys
Part 3 – The Boater, the Biologist, and the Blogs
Part 4 – Action Alert (You Are Here)

Boating in the Los Angeles River's Future - the Los Angeles city plan for the Chinatown Stretch

Future Boating in the Los Angeles River - Image of the Los Angeles city plan for the Chinatown/Cornfields Stretch

Of Nexus and Navigability – Part 4, Action Alert

For extended background discussion of navigability and how it impacts waterway protection, please see Part 1, where Jessica has explained it all concisely.  Creek Freak will now recap a bit and bring the story up the present day.

The 1972 federal Clean Water Act says that all the “navigable waters” of the United States need to be swimmable and fishable – which is to say safe for human health and for nature’s health.  For 30+ years the Clean Water Act has gradually worked to prevent many of the worst excesses of Los Angeles River pollution, but it has been a thorn in the side of folks who see environmental regulations as a unnecessary expense.  A recent supreme court ruling, called “Rapanos v. United States,” narrows the definition of which waterways are federally protected.  Protections are now limited to only “traditionally navigable” rivers and waters with a “significant nexus” to a navigable waterway.

This year, the Army Corps of Engineers made a determination that only two stretches of the Los Angeles River are designated as navigable: the Sepulveda Basin and the river’s mouth in Long Beach.  Army Corps staff maintained that the river itself is actually still protected – because a few miles of it are traditionally navigable, and the rest of it has that “significant nexus” with the navigable parts.  Techincally, the Army Corps actually didn’t make a navigability determination for most of the river – they didn’t declare the rest of the river non-navigable, they just didn’t decide… though, in effect, their limits of their ruling suggests that  the rest of the river is not clearly navigable.  The biggest problem with all this is not so much that the river itself isn’t protected, but that the smaller probably-not-particularly-navigable tributaries won’t be protected, hence they can be filled in, culverted, degraded, and otherwise mistreated.

Creek freaks, river advocates and other environmentalists see this determination as a serious erosion of the legal protections.  Similar protection rollbacks have been decried on the Santa Cruz River in Arizona.  If determinations like this stand, there are implications for other waterways throughout the country – especially in the Southwest, where our rivers and creeks are often drier, flashier and less clearly navigable than those on the east coast.

A navigability decision is supposed to include historical uses as well as future plans.  Creek Freak’s readers are familiar with some of the extensive history of boating (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.)  All the future plans for the river approve increased recreation usage.  Sometimes this explicitly includes navigation/boating.  For example, the city of Los Angeles’ Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan, in its future vision for the Chinatown/Cornfield opportunity area (chapter 6, page 30), states “On most weekends in good weather, kayakers in great numbers flock to this area for a chance to paddle in the River.”  The plan’s images clearly show boating – see above and below.

Looks like navigation to me - boats in the middle left of LA City's Master Plan for the Chinatown/Cornfields

Looks like navigation to me - Boats in the middle left of image from the approved LA City River Master Plan for the Chinatown/Cornfields Stretch

Dismayed Creek Freaks and allies took to our kayaks and our pens (well, probably mostly computers these days) to push against the narrow navigability designation.  Santa Monica Baykeeper, Heal the Bay, Natural Resources Defense Council and others encouraged the Army Corps to not be so limited in what they were designating navigable.  When the Corps wouldn’t budge, the same organizations encouraged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to override the Army Corps.  Good news!  The EPA recently decided to make the Los Angeles River a “special case,” so the EPA gets to make the determination.

At a recent meeting of the city of Los Angeles’ Ad Hoc Committee on the Los Angeles River, the EPA’s regional wetlands chief David Smith presented on how his agency will make their determination.  His presentation is posted on-line (two versions, basically the same content: a powerpoint presentation or a 2-page document.)  The EPA is looking for the river to meet four criteria to be designated as navigable – and, if you’ve been reading Creek Freak’s series, you know that the river meets all these criteria:

1. Is there sufficient river flow and depth to support boating?
2. Is there a history of boating on the River and for what purposes? What recreational or commercial uses are made of the River?
3. Is there public access to the River?
4. Are there plans to improve or restore the River to increase navigation potential?

The regional EPA folks plan to make their reccommendation by beginning of 2009.  This recommendation will then go to EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. for review, with a new determination expected probably in the first half of 2009.  The EPA is seeking input on their decision.  While they’re expected to come down on the side of more river designated navigable, they will need to be able to show public support for that determination.  If you want to support and protect the Los Angeles and other rivers, please write a letter or an email to the EPA’s David Smith.  If you’ve boated the river, please let him know.  If you support planned boating in the river’s future, please let him know.  Creek Freak has composed the following fairly-generic comment letter – please personalize it by putting it in your own language.  Submit letters to the EPA by mid-December.

**12/3/2008 – Correction: this is an important meeting that’s still happening – but it’s not about navigability.  Navigability meeting is a different one planned for December 16th – more info about that soon!   Also, plan to attend the city of Los Angeles’ public meeting this Thursday night from 5:30pm to 8:30pm at the Metropolitan Water District in downtown Los Angeles.  The meeting will include an EPA presentation on navigability and an opportunity for public comment on the issue.

sample letter:

David Smith
EPA Region 9
75 Hawthorne Street (WTR-8)
San Francisco, CA 94105
Re: Los Angeles River Navigability

Dear David Smith –

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) review process evaluating the navigability status of the Los Angeles River.  I encourage US EPA to ensure that your results protect the Los Angeles River and it tributaries to greatest extent possible under federal law.

The Los Angeles River is clearly navigable.  The current and past flows of the Los Angeles River are and have consistently been sufficient to support small boats, including kayaks and canoes.  The history of the river, from the 1800s to the present day, includes many accounts of boating.  Plans for the river’s future call for greatly increased recreational use, including boating.

The Los Angeles River is today an important resource for people and for nature.  A great deal of public and community investment is successfully bringing the river back to life.  Please respect these efforts by making a determination that protects and restores the river’s health.

[your name and your address]

Comments can also be submitted via email at  Whether you mail or email, if you’re up for it, please copy creek freat at  We’ll check with you first, but we hope to use some of the letters in a future blog entry.  Send your comments in today.

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