While Los Angeles moves through the 21st century, much of its landscape remains locked up in 1940s concrete. The storm drain and flood channel that was and will again be the Los Angeles River is a case in point.
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From today's vantage point, though, it's easy to see that the intrusion of both concrete and control was excessive. The engineers, with their military precision and their focus on safety, turned what was once the city's water source into its back alley, its sewer and very nearly one of its freeways. The river's role in replenishing aquifers, sustaining plant and animal life and providing opportunities for human recreation evaporated as quickly as a splash of water on concrete in the hot September sun.
The corps of today has helped advocates of restoration and planners rethink the river by vetting and narrowing to four a range of alternatives, all of which would retain the flood-control capacity of the earlier projects while punching through the bottom of the concrete channel and reinvigorating the city's primary artery and wildlife corridor. Those engineers could well become heroes to the city too.
And yet — they are leaning toward a plan that would do little to end the separation between the river and Angelenos. The justification is the higher cost of more ambitious alternatives. But the federal government has made it clear, through the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, that restoration is worth the public investment, that the Los Angeles River is a priority and that reconnecting urban communities to their waterways is a top priority.