In an environmental movie, I’d probably be the villain. Or at least, one of the lazy sheeple throng the hero delivers his anvilicious lecture to at the end, once he’s shown them the errors of their skeptical attitudes and patronage of McDonalds. Case in point: I recently discovered that about two years ago, a kayaking expedition was put together for the express purpose of proving the Los Angeles River represented “traditional navigable waters”. It succeeded, officially taking away oversight of the river from the evil Army Corps of Engineers and giving it instead to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency under the auspices of the Clean Water Act.
I should be applauding these plucky underdogs who defied uncaring authority to change the world, and yet all I could think of was… “seriously?” This is what the idea of a “navigable river” has come to?
I mean, the legal definiton of the term is “Waters that provide a channel for commerce and transportation of people and goods.” And while the L.A. River is well known for transporting goods in a post-consumer sense, I believe putting it into the same category as the Mississippi is stretching things a tad. No, I don’t think the tours qualify, either.
I’m aware there are parts of the L.A. River that are actually quite scenic, even parts that were never jacketed in grafitti-covered concrete and show a glimpse of what once was. Hell, even the concrete parts like those out by Griffith Park look a lot better than when I was a kid, with actual greenery having taken root in the channels. But there’s an underlying ambition here to really, really overhaul the river over the next few decades, turning it into scenes like this:
Is that better than what we have now? Well, yes–it would be hard to be worse. But not only does that still look fairly choked with concrete, I’m sort of missing an important element here. Where are the walls? I mean, it’s easy to imagine chortling developers who strangled an innocent natural waterway for kicks, but uh… there was a good reason the Engineers did what they did. Every so often, the Los Angeles River goes fucking berserk, and arguably the only reason we haven’t had repeats of 1938 are those cement straightjackets making sure the casualties stay confined to people stupid enough to not understand words like “storm drain” and “flood control”. Which is why proposal graphics like this terrify me:
The other 99% of the time, I wonder where all this water is supposed to be coming from. But I probably shouldn’t worry much, considering this is something estimated to take anywhere from 25 to 50 years, assuming they even find the money to do it.
It does look pretty, and I’ve seen some amazing transformations in my time–Old Town Pasadena comes to mind–but overhauling the River makes that particular project look like tinker toys, and doesn’t bring up the spectre of Atwater being renamed Underwater with the next heavy rain.
It could happen, though. The fish will swim, the pigs will get their wings, and we can all look forwards to a new era of kayak-borne commerce in our childrens’ future.