This muse is coming a day early... our wedding anniversary is tomorrow, and with it comes two days (hooray!) of kid-free time. I was surprised to find an article this morning in the NYT on the re-designation of the Los Angeles River as a navigable waterway, and even a recent float trip down one of its sections. Those familiar with the LA Basin will know the Los Angeles River as a sometimes-stream, sometimes-trickle through concrete culverts down the heart of the city. The concrete is designed specifically to channel water quickly through the urban area and out to sea -- a hedge against the occasional possibility of a flash flood and resultant destruction. Unfortunately, all that concrete has had a predictably destructive impact upon the viability of the waterway.
These recent efforts to reclaim the Los Angeles River as a river, and not just a glorified culvert, are part of a larger move toward reclamation and restoration of waterways throughout the West. Dams such as the Condit Dam in SW Washington are scheduled for breaching to restore traditional fish runs; urban waterways such as Portland's Willamette River are increasingly used for recreation; battles play out in farming country as southern Oregon and northern California attempt to reconcile 100 years of reclamation policy -- and 100 years of farm and ranch families' livelihood -- with the needs of the region's struggling wildlife population.
The issues raised by restoration efforts are complex. Our efforts to deal with them, however, reflect a broader understanding of all the dimensions of our livelihood in the West. After all, the West was built on resource exploitation. This exploitation has brought wealth, power and prosperity; it has also brought the destruction and elimination of much of what built this wealth and power in the first place. Only a conscious effort to manage the resources of the West will enable us to continue to live profitably -- not just in monetary terms, but in terms of quality of life -- in the future.
There is beauty even in what human hands have manipulated. My husband and I used to take walks along Ballona Creek, another concrete-lined waterway that courses through Culver City and Playa del Rey, and on out to the Pacific Ocean. Concrete, yes; but also home to flocks of pelicans, other shorebirds and the grand sweep of sky and water so unique to the Pacific coastline. Perhaps our growing understanding of restoration and reclamation will bring waterways like the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek into a more natural state. Appreciating them for what they are is probably the best way to begin. With conscious effort and enlightened policy, we can begin to create a West that can sustain and flourish for decades to come.
Ballona Creek, Fall 2004