Environmental group warns public to stay out of L.A. River as kaykers prepare for boat race

Kayakers preparing to launch into the river in Elysian Valley | Martha Benedict

ELYSIAN VALLEY —  The environmental group Heal the Bay issued a last-minute warning on Friday advising the public to stay out of the L.A. River this weekend after it found “alarmingly high levels of bacterial pollution” in the water earlier this week.

The warning was issued one day before kayakers and canoeists are scheduled to compete in  today’s L.A. River Boat Race in Elysian Valley.  Race organizers said the event will go on, noting that Heal the Bay’s warning was based on water samples taken on Monday following unusual summer showers.  Rain usually increases street and storm drain runoff into the river, raising bacterial levels.

“The race is going to go ahead as planned, with our providing heightened water-quality safety information and wash stations to participants,” said a race spokesperson. “We will also not be operating in the two locations that we know from historic data are most at risk. The timing of Heal the Bay’s announcement is unfortunate for a special event that relies on funding from the city and nonprofits to ensure no one will be turned away. Why they are propagating the data now instead of earlier this week when it would have been helpful to river users is confusing.”

Heal the Bay said it recorded “very high levels of bacteria” on Sept. 1 and Sept. 4 in the Elysian Valley area.  The results have a “special urgency this weekend” given today’s boat race.

“Rainstorms and poor upstream water quality likely led to the spike in such bacteria levels (the presence of which indicate an elevated risk for ear infections, respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal illnesses for people who come in contact with the water),” the group said on its website. “Heal the Bay urges people to stay out of the water and to delay any planned kayaking trips until water quality results show marked improvement.”

Heal The Bay scientists said they expected updated bacteria counts this weekend, but the results won’t be posted on the organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages until Sunday.

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  1. This is NOT a momentary issue. An alert was put out for the river several months ago after tests in that area showed high levels of pollutants in the river, including a LOT of e-coli matter and other serous pollutants. It was warned not to even so much as touch the water, and it any water on your skin, to wash it immediately with soap and hot water.

    It was noted that the sewage plants at Sepulveda Dam as well as right there at Atwater-Glendale dump their treated water into the river — the city Sanitation Dept. tried to pass the blame, said it was not from them, suggested it was probably from animals along the river. But that was shockingly in denial, as the volume of pollutants could not possibly be from some animals along the river, not from the volume they found. (Mind you, that treated water is NOT oh so clean, it is NOT being put through something even like a hepa filter, just read the sign at the Atwater facility explaining what they do; it is simply going through some “sand,” and then they dump chemicals into it — and dump it into the river. That it is a filtration plant does NOT automatically mean it is being filtered to the max.

    No matter the cause of the pollution, this latest report seems to go right along with the alert put out several months ago — which was not a temporary alert.

  2. The high levels of bacteria are probably due to the huge amount of people living upstream in the river. They are dumping raw sewage and animal waste in the river and placing downstream users at risk. As well as placing their own lives and those of rescuers at risk from flash flooding. Army Corps please invade this area and remove them instead of vegetation.

    • David, Agree with you about placing rescuers at risk. Do you have a source for actual numbers of people living on the “islands?”

    • David, the high volume of the pollution means your blame on a few homeless people living at the river (you said people living IN the river, not in homes along the river) is very misguided.

      As for the vegetation and islands that have been allowed to grow in the river, they are a VERY SERIOUS danger to the entire flood basin the river flood control channel was designed to protect, making that area habitable and developable. It is now all developed.

      When you slow the flow of the water though the channel with islands and vegetation, you undermine that flood control protection and make the entire flood basin prone to flooding. In fact, finally, the Army Corp of Engineers came out with a report a few moths back saying exactly that, warning that the entire flood basin there could find itself under as much as 10 feet of water! This is why that ugly barrel-blockade has been put up at the top of the channel, because of the islands and plants that have been allowed to grow in the channel, but that is not sufficient considering flooding could be as much as 10 feet, as those are only about four feet!

      That kind of flooding, from a 100-year storm, which is what the channel was designed to protect against, a 100-year storm, could leave people dead, injured, or at least lose their homes and all their possessions, as well as close down the I-5 freeway.

      • The river channel did pretty well last winter during our winter storm deluge that we had. The water just flows right over those plants and trees.

        • Good thing we didn’t have a hundred-year storm last winter — we will, and a certainly as that we will have the big quake. That’s why the flood control channel is designed for such a monster storm. Citing a winter when there was no storm even remotely close to a hundred-year storm is of no value, its just specious.

  3. Great photograph, Martha Benedict! The train in upper area is superb touch. Would you mind telling us what camera you used? Back in the day, we would share manual settings of our 35mm cameras…I sure miss my ancient Minolta.

  4. The water is dirty, it always has been. The City doent want to admit this because they want to further gentrify the area and completley develope the areas around the river. This is an on going tread to put housing in areas previoulsy deemed too pulluted for housing…such as next to freeways. The new demographic either dont care, or are horribly misinformed!

  5. We dont care if the water is dirty. We are freaks!

  6. When I was a kid, I played in mud, dirt, grime, and was overall exposed to every kind of pathogen and germ possible. Now as an adult I almost never get sick, and have zero ailments, allergies, or sensitivities. Most people these days can’t say the same. Embrace the grime, build up your immune system, kids.

  7. People, heal the bay have no agenda.
    I have seen the infections caused by these pathogens and bacteria and they are not limited to them alone there are also trace levels of MRSA, Strep, and a whole bunch of “ococcis” that are too numerous to list.
    If you go in that river with any open wounds or scratches you are a complete imbecile.

  8. These people will not stop their boating even if the water is polluted. They do NOT want to lose any money. It is all about the benjamins.

    Anyone remember the rains from either the 1980’s or 90’s when the River was flooded to the very top? Well, worse rains can happen. Climate change? Anyone remember when the river was at the very top?

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