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Flood Control And People With Too Much Time On Their Hands
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October 18, 2011, 04:05 PM
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For about 15 years now, I`ve been reading articles about how Real Soon Now government officials, concerned citizens, environmental activists and others are going to get together the final version of a plan to restore the Los Angeles River back to its pristine natural state instead of being the big, ugly concrete ditch it has been since 1942, all for only a few billion bucks.

Finally, a reporter on one of these stories went and asked some guy who lives next to the L.A. River about all these plans to fix a flood control project that isn`t broken:

"This works exactly how it needs to," he said of the concrete abutment next to his house, with fences to keep out visitors, as water poured into the L.A. River below a Canoga Park High School football practice. "It funnels all the excess water away from residents and businesses. 

"The last thing we want to do is to encourage people to get close to the L.A. River - let`s all hold hands and smoke pixie dust and sing `Kumbaya."`

It`s worth noting that the Army Corps of Engineers built a lot of the L.A. River concrete ditch in 1942, presumably because they had nothing better to do that year. L.A. had been hit badly by a 50-year flood in 1938: 9.4 inches of rain fell in one stretch. (We had two bigger rain events in 2005.) About two days per year, it`s the river from hell, and every few decades it`s worse than that. Up until 1825, the LA River used to reach the sea at what`s now Marina Del Rey, north of LAX. Then, there was a huge flood and it changed course to what`s now the Harbor, about 20 miles south. You really wouldn`t want the LA River to change course again.

With hindsight, it`s easy to see that they should have set up a huge system of parklands alongside the river to absorb floods, but, they were kind of busy and didn`t have the money, what with the Depression and WWII, and so they didn`t do that. It`s too bad, because my father discovered in 1994 by plotting on a map all the buildings that had to be condemned after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake that about 80% of them were on the old streambeds, which were typically around a half-mile wide swath of sand. As the Bible says, a building built on sand ... So, knowing what we know now (and how many people know that), it would have been great if they`d lined the river with golf courses and parks, but they didn`t.

And they aren`t going to do that now, either. 

So, Don`t Ditch the Ditch.