Los Angeles River banks to be raised for El Nino

January 8, 2016

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin work next week to temporarily raise the banks along nearly three miles of the Los Angeles River to improve flood protection during El Nino storms, officials announced Friday, just days after the watercourse roared to life during heavy rains.

Temporary barriers to be put in place with $3.1 million in emergency federal funding will increase the river's capacity north of downtown in a stretch that spans the east side of Griffith Park to Elysian Valley paralleling Interstate 5.

The barriers are something like giant sandbags—fabric containers with a wire mesh structure that are filled with earth. Lt. Col. Kirk Gibbs, Los Angeles district commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, said the barriers would arrive in the city on Saturday.

About $500,000 in additional funding will be used for work farther upstream to remove vegetation that impedes the flow of water.

The Los Angeles River runs 51 miles from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach Harbor.

Lined in concrete except for areas with sandy bottoms that allow vegetation to grow, the urban river usually has just a trickle of water and is often the target of ridicule. The renowned architect Frank Gehry is working on a master plan to restore large sections to a natural condition with connections to parks and other public areas.

But it serves a major flood-control function when rain falls on its 870-square-mile watershed. Disastrous floods with millions of dollars in damage and many deaths in the early 20th century led to the decision to channelize it.

"Our river is unique—most of the year it runs nearly dry, and then during the rainy season it runs in powerful torrents as we've seen this week," Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.

The funding came about rapidly. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors requested the funds in a letter sent Tuesday to Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles district of the Corps declared an emergency to its headquarters and the funding was granted, the mayor's office said.

The Los Angeles City Council will have to approve a motion allowing entry to the river levees but work is expected to begin next week. The work may close some of the river's bike and pedestrian paths.

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