El Niño puts the spotlight on L.A.'s perennial problems

El Niño puts the spotlight on L.A.'s perennial problems
A man walks along an old Union Pacific Bridge as the Los Angeles river flows in South Gate on Jan. 6. (Los Angeles Times)

Homelessness, bad water management and a concrete channel that scars our urban landscape: If there's a chronic problem in Los Angeles, the El Niño deluges seem to be highlighting it.

Some of the perennial issues that plague L.A. go unaddressed precisely because of this area's usual lack of rain. Our dry, typically comfortable weather makes postponing meaningful action on homelessness easier, and the semi-arid climate of Southern California and surrounding mountain ranges conspire to produce flash flooding when the rains do come, necessitating the use of flood-control channels to shunt the fresh water safely to sea.


But with a multi-year drought still underway and more El Niño storms on the horizon, some of our letter writers have started asking: Why don't we keep this water? Shouldn't we get homeless people out of the rain? And can we finally we do something about our unsightly "river"?

Venice resident Joel Shapiro, the coproducer of a documentary about the L.A. River called "Rock the Boat," says we should use the water flowing into the Pacific Ocean:

The title and focus of The Times' article on Thursday on the now-raging L.A. River should have been headlined, "Opportunity Missed."

The missed opportunity is the 440,000 acre feet of water we are throwing away annually into Long Beach Harbor while Los Angeles imports 660,000 acre feet from the already overtaxed Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

This is a critical mismanagement issue. With climate change, we are heading into a new normal of long-term drought, and we toss away the equivalent of much of what we import into Los Angeles.

By the way, this also means we are using vast amounts of energy (and associated carbon pollution) to import all this water.

Anne Cook of Venice similarly laments a waste of resources and compares L.A.'s river to those of other large cities:

Thanks for the article about the L.A. River, a beautiful, evocative, poetic, fact-packed piece of reporting. My compliments to the writer Joe Mozingo; he's a keeper.

How sad, too, that unlike other cities on world-class rivers like the Danube and the Seine, we haven't preserved our waterway as a resource. And considering the immense volume of water that's running past, why the heck aren't we capturing it? When will we ever learn?

Alison Rood of Folsom takes issue with those who regard El Niño only as a burden:

Regarding Steve Lopez's column on Wednesday about the homeless man drastically affected by heavy rainfall, isn't "cursed" a bit heavy-handed when describing El Niño?

It's not a good situation for many people, that's true, but with our forests dying, our reservoirs empty and our ecosystems in jeopardy, surely the rainfall we desperately need is not a curse. At some point the health of our natural world should be more worthy of our concern.

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