When there’s a risk of flooding in the L.A. River, officials are quick to issue warnings and close the channel to the public. But when there’s a big spike in harmful bacteria in the water, there’s no official procedure in place to warn people away from the river, reports KPCC. That issue came up earlier this month when levels of E.coli, which is associated with feces, jumped to about 100 times above federal safety limits a few days before kayakers raced down the river in Elysian Valley.
Water quality officials began detecting a spike in E.coli in the river as early as Sept. 1 and shared that information among a small group of agencies, KPCC said. But no government warnings were ever issued and the river remained opened for public use, including the boat race on Sept. 9. The problem did not become public until the day before the boat race was held when Heal The Bay, an environmental group, advised kayakers and river users to stay out of the water.
A series of email exchanges between government agencies revealed that no one believed they had the authority to keep the public out of the river. “Canceling kayaking is not within our authority,” said a person with the city’s Bureau of Sanitation. A county health specialist said that “we do not have the authority to close the river.”
A spokesman for the Mountains River Conservation Authority, which oversees the river recreation zone in Elysian Valley, told KPCC that the authority could have shut down the zone in light of the high bacteria levels but it was never asked by city, county or federal officials to do so.
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