Will the Arroyo Seco flow back to life?

The Arroyo Seco | Martha Benedict

The Arroyo Seco near the York Boulevard Bridge| Martha Benedict


NORTHEAST L.A. — While the L.A. River is poised for a billion-dollar restoration, the nearby Arroyo Seco seems almost forgotten as it runs down a narrow slit along the 110 Freeway. But a feasibility study now underway may eventually lead to a restoration of the Arroyo Seco as well.

The Ecosystem Restoration study will evaluate an 11-mile section of the river from La Cañada Flintridge on the north to near the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and L.A. River  on the south near Cypress Park and Lincoln Heights. It a diverse stretch that courses through wilderness and dense urban neighborhoods, flowing near the Rose Bowl as well as Debs Park  and the North Central Animal Shelter in Lincoln Heights.

The Arroyo Seco flows in a narrow channel east of the Arroyo Seco Parkway | Martha Benedict

The Arroyo Seco flows in a narrow channel east of the Arroyo Seco Parkway | Martha Benedict

The goal of the restoration is to strike a balance between managing the risk of flood while supporting natural habitat and providing recreational uses near the river, according to Mark Lombos of the county’s Public Works Department, which is conducting the study with  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“[Restoration] could be as minimal as removing invasive plant species adjacent to the Arroyo Seco, and, on the extreme end, it would be [removing] segments of the concrete channel that could be …. turned into a more natural flowing river.”

The feasibility study is expected to be finished sometime in 2017 before it is sent to Congress for final approval. There is no price tag on the restoration efforts at this time.

A few of the options being considered for the restoration range from re creating river banks to directing storm water runoff to nearby vegetation.

The Arroyo Seco near L.A. - South Pasadena boundary | Martha Benedict

The Arroyo Seco near the L.A. – South Pasadena boundary | Martha Benedict

Priyanka Wadhawan of the U.S. Army Corps Engineers says restoring sections of the floodplain that are developed pose a great challenge for the team conducting the study.

“It would be easy to restore a habitat in the middle of a forest, but to do urban restoration you have to consider infrastructure – life, property,”  Wadhawan said. “We can’t move these things – like the freeways, bridges and other developments – that are inherently part of the city.”

In addition to helping replenish supplies of groundwater, one of the biggest potential benefits of restoring the Arroyo Seco would be to connect isolated pockets of natural habitats that currently exist, said Wadhawan.

There are many challenges and problems, large and small, that are not being addressed by the study, however. The large number of homeless living along the Arroyo Seco was brought up at public meetings held to review the study. However, dealing with homeless encampments is not mentioned in the restoration efforts.

Arroyo Seco homeless encampment | Martha Benedict

Arroyo Seco homeless encampment | Martha Benedict

For Highland Park resident Sául Narro, the trails along the Arroyo Seco need help.  Narro, who regularly runs the trail  into Pasadena with the Highland Park Running Club,  has to deal with weather-eroded trails littered with tree branches and rocks.

“Lots of ankles turned,” Narro says. “It would be more inviting to the general public if the paths were maintained,  resurfaced with sand or even lay down wood chips to make the trails softer.”

Highland Park runners on the trail next to the Arroyo Seco | Nathan Solis

Highland Park runners on the trail next to the Arroyo Seco | Nathan Solis

watershed study area

The restoration study focuses on the 11-mile southern section of the Arroyo Seco

Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.


  1. Make it a giant skatepark!!!

  2. This could be amazing

  3. There is a lot of parkland along the arroyo seco that, if lowered in elevation, would provide the necessary capacity to hold floodwaters if the arroyo seco is turned back into a creek rather than a drainage ditch – the trees and other plant-life in an actual river / stream system acts to slow water down, which means that it rises higher in floods, so the big challenge is to increase the capacity of the Arroyo. But actually not too hard to do if the arroyo is widened and the banks are deepened

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