Atwater residents complain about L.A. River barrier blight

ATWATER VILLAGE — Temporary flood-control barriers were installed along the L.A. River in January as an emergency response to forecasts of heavy El Niño rains. Those rains, however, never came. But those barriers, which were supposed removed in the late spring, still stand on the east bank of the river in Atwater, and there’s no final word as to when they will be removed. Meanwhile, some residents complain that the barriers have attracted tagging, trash and have even made it difficult to bird watch.

The barriers are “not what we moved to Atwater Village for,” said James Harper after he attended a forum organized earlier this week by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had the barriers installed.

Most of the sand-filled barriers, which were placed at the top of the river channel next to Griffith Park, Silver Lake as well as Atwater, have been removed. But the barriers remain along the Atwater side of the river, which the Army Corps says is more prone to flooding than other areas because of a buildup of sediment and vegetation in the river bed. That reduces the capacity of the channel to hold water and increases the prospect of the river rising above the banks.

“To the average Californian, there is no rain in Southern California, but there is rain,” said Lillian Doherty, Los Angeles Operations Branch Chief, during the meeting at Friendship Auditorium in Los Feliz. “Flood risk is real.”

However, many residents who attended the meeting want the barriers removed as soon as possible. During the question and answer session, a line of concerned locals voiced their dislike of the barriers and expressed concerns about other the river-related matters.

Other complaints were about pesticides used to eliminate the invasive vegetation, the increase of homeless encampments and a lack of signage along the river. Army Corps representatives wrote down a list of all the questions so answers can br posted on their website by the end of the month.

So when will the barriers be removed?

There is no specific date to when this will happen, according to officials. The ultimate goal is to restore the original capacity of the channel.

The Army Corps’ current plan is to conduct a hydraulic analysis, check the results and see if they’re comfortable with the risk before taking down the barriers in combination with removing some vegetation and sediment prior to the upcoming rainy season.

Highlights from Army Corps Presentation:

  • Restoring the river channel’s capacity is “critical” to reducing flood risk for 2,200 residents and approximately 641 structures valued at an estimated $241 million.
  • Removal of nearly 3.7 acres of vegetation in the vicinity of Riverside Drive is the minimum necessary to relieve potential risk to bridge and surrounding communities.
  • Non-native/invasive species vegetation removal will occur in the areas downstream of Fletcher Drive to the Metrolink train yard.

Jacqueline Fernandez is a Los Angeles-based reporter who’s written for various media outlets such as Los Angeles Wave, The Miami Herald and WLRN-Miami Herald News.

learn more