Despite this debate, Reyes says, the revitalization of the L.A. River is far from lost, and that the Army Corps will still consider defining other sections of the river as traditionally navigable. Field, the corps’ spokesman, suggests the Glendale Narrows in Frogtown as the next stretch to which the definition could be applied.
George Wolfe and the Los Angeles River Expedition aren’t waiting.
Taking the waters: Performance artists the Mud People show their support.
If Scalia wants a river that can be navigated by boat, he’ll get one.
“The [trip was] to demonstrate that [the river is] navigable,” asserts Wolfe. “Boating, as silly as it sounds, is essential to this whole discussion as to what is a river. On the permit side, they call it a ‘flood-control access permit.’ It doesn’t even say ‘river’ on it. It’s defined by the disaster it’s trying to avoid” — a massive future flood.
So, from July 25 to 27, rather like Lewis and Clark 200 years ago, Wolfe and other kayakers defined a route, demonstrating that the river is, indeed, traditionally navigable from its cement tributaries in Chatsworth to the Long Beach estuary at the Pacific Ocean.
The technicalities of Supreme Court definitions weren’t the only reason for the trip. Wolfe and friends are part of a larger movement to fight for natural recreation space in a city starved of it.
Even the Sepulveda Basin, the river in its natural state — or, “undeveloped,” as the corps calls it — is marred by bottles, cans and shrouds of plastic bags, creating a nasty soup for the birds and fish that thrive there.
Ultimately, however, what may drive the fate of the L.A. River has less to do with environmentalism than with economics.
“When they channeled the river, they never thought they would need it” as a river again, observes Lewis MacAdams, who founded Friends of the Los Angeles River. But today, allowing the waters to be polluted with runoff and trash has denigrated the largest freshwater source on the Southern California coast.
Given the water shortage this area faces, the $1 billion it spends annually to import water, and the voluminous amount of river water pouring into the ocean, the L.A. River could one day be seen less as a flood channel than as a key ingredient in the region’s livability and survival.