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LA River Tour: Sepulveda Basin


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[Part 2 of the LA River series. The initial post can be found here]

We began our tour at the offices of the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR), in the River Center building near the intersection of the 5 and 110 freeways. The historic old building originally housed the Lawry’s Spice Company headquarters, and now is the home of many non-profit groups that advocate for open space and river revitalization. Our chariot for the day was a warm and comfortable tour bus, which provided great views of the river as we drove from stop to stop.

1st Stop: Sepulveda Flood Control Basin
The Sepulveda Basin is a 225 acre area that combines both “active” recreation (soccer and baseball fields) with “passive” recreation (natural areas, ponds, marshes). The area is free of permanent buildings because it is designed to attenuate (hold back) water in an area that floods during seasonal rain events, protecting downstream areas. As such, the Army Corps of Engineers has recently been doing some work in the area, stripping vegetation from the river banks to ensure that water will be able to collect behind the dam unobstructed.

Tour leader Joe Linton noted that most of the water we saw flowing in the river was actually imported from Northern California, used by local residents, cleaned to a tertiary treatment level, and then released into the river. 60 million gallons of this treated wastewater is released each day from the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant. This means that, for much of the year, the Los Angeles River has more water flowing through it than ever before, although this flow is completely unnatural.

At this stop, tour co-leader Jenny Price gave the group a primer on the issue of urban runoff. Due to the impervious surfaces (surfaces water cannot pass through) such as pavement, roofs, and concrete that cover the LA Basin, 85% of the precipitation that falls in the area washes directly into the river, carrying with it trash, heavy metals, petroleum, pet waste, and other nasty pollutants. This is the reason LA’s beaches have so many issues with pollution after wet periods. Jenny noted that prior to the urbanization of the area, only 8% of precipitation would runoff the land into the river. The other 92% was absorbed by the soil, recharging the groundwater.

If more land could be developed using new materials that allow water to filter through to the soil, it would have the triple benefits of cleaning the water via filtration, recharging the groundwater, and allowing LA to reduce water imports by relying more on local groundwater sources. To achieve these goals, FOLAR promotes the creation of parks along the river to help filter runoff through natural areas before it enters the river, a method proven to reduce the pollutants in urban runoff.

We saw plenty of wildlife in this area, including a rarely seen type of hawk: the white-tailed kite. There were lots of areas to get close to water, and tons of open space.

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