Coming to the L.A. River this summer? Don’t forget to bring sunscreen and check the water bacteria

L.A. River Zone water quality results | Photo by Martha Benedict


The L.A. River is reopening on Memorial Day for another summer of kayaking, fishing and hiking. But this year you will be able to check the water quality before you go to find out if it’s safe or too filthy to get wet.

Kayakers, hikers and anglers heading to the river can check L.A. Sanitation’s web page for the levels of E. coli bacteria in the Elysian Valley and Sepulveda Basin sections of the river. The water will be tested twice a week, with the color coded results indicating water quality:

  • Green: Bacteria levels are relatively low and the water quality is suitable for recreational activities (but not swimming)
  • Yellow: Users should exercise increased caution about water quality. In the past authorities have advised river goers against submerging your head underwater and limiting water contact with your face and mouth.
  • Red: The river is closed to the public after unsafe levels of bacteria are detected. Closure advisories will be issued and signs will be posted along the river.

In all cases, no matter the testing results, swimming is never recommended in the river.

A protocol for closing the river and notifying the public during excessive fecal levels was adopted last February by the L.A. City Council, six months after government agencies failed to notify the public of E.coli levels that hit 100 times the federal safety limit for swimming and recreation. The public was alerted instead by an environmental group called Heal the Bay just before a kayaking race.

The two recreation zones will be open this year from Memorial Day, May 28 through September 30.

L.A. River Summer Guide

Here are some tips, rules and advice for a visit to the L.A. River Recreation Zone bounded by the neighborhoods of Cypress Park, Elysian Valley and Glassell Park. You can find more info here.

Kayak/Canoe yourself
Residents are allowed to bring non-motorized, steerable boats (think kayaks and canoes) down the Class I river rapids, which takes about 2-½ hours from Rattlesnake Park to Confluence Park in Elysian Valley. No inner tubes or floaty mats.

Sign Up For A Guided Kayak Tour
Starting this holiday weekend, three private outfitters will offer kayak tours of the 2.5-mile stretch of the Glendale Narrows in Elysian Valley.

Fish On The River
Make sure you get a permit. And be careful where you swing that pole.

Sorry, No Pets
Dogs are not allowed in the river channel but are welcome on the paths at the top.

Keep An Eye Open For Community Paddle Evenings
Keep an eye out for these free events  for Elysian Valley residents who will get instruction and paddling time.


  • The Friends of the L.A. River, which runs the Frogspot, will start holding second Saturday events beginning June in the Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park in Elysian Valley. A schedule will be posted soon.
  • The annual L.A. River Boat Race is postponed until 2019
  • Not everything happens on the Elysian Valley side of the river. Venture into the Bowtie Project in Glassell Park for Reading by Moonrise on June 27.

The simplest things are best. Pack a picnic and head to Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park (or any other riverside parklet) for an afternoon of DIY dining.

Here’s What is Going on Across The Eastside

Submit An Event


  1. I surely hope they also reveal when they make treatment plant discharges into the river as compared to when they take their tests. I don’t want tests takes an hour before they make a discharge that makes the test result irrelevant. We can’t rely on the test results if we have no idea if they just fouled the water horrendously by a new release, whether from the plant at the river at Atwater or higher up at Sepulveda Dam.

    And while that water if called “treated,” it is not at all so well treated as many people presume.

  2. The treatment plant discharges are super clean water! Close to drinking water quality. Since the opening of the season the water quality at 2 of the 3 test sites in Elysian Valley has consistently met EPA swimming water quality standards and the other location met recreational water quality standards (EPA REC2.)

    After a rainstorm the river is closed for 72 hours due to street run off. Avoid those times and you will find clean water. Check the website of the City you want to know the details of water test. Unless there is a red sign up you are good to go.

    By the way, this article IS NOT accurate when it says the City did not inform when the water quality was bad for a time last year. The time in question was after a rain storm when the river was closed anyway. The various press stories coming from Heal the Bay talked about that time (after a storm) but ignored that except for those close times, the river in Elysian Valley was compliant with swim standards more than 90% of the time.

    • The City of Los Angeles only started making water quality information and alerts widely available to the public only after the issues were brought to light by Heal the Bay and KPCC. The most recent results for the Elysian Valley section of River taken on May 31 adviser visitors to exercise increased caution when coming in contact with the river.

      • Right now the only group kayaking has been putting in at the Frogspot (where the water has been meeting EPA swim standards) and getting out at Rattlesnake Park (where the water also met EPA swim standards.) Up near Fletcher drive its been reaching REC2 but not swim standards.

        The “caution” recommendation is used whenever the water at one of the three test locations goes over swimming standards. The location where it did not meet swim standards is near Fletcher Drive. It did meet REC 2 EPA standard for limited recreation, suitable for kayaking.

        Water quality has been very good so far. The city will post and inform if values go above.

      • Yes you are right about the water quality data not being widely available until this year….it was available but hard to get to. Now that’s fixed thanks to efforts of HTB, kayakers, river advocates and the City. The take away on water quality though is overall very good.

  3. The “caution” recommendation is used whenever the water at one of the three test locations goes over swimming standards. The location where it did not meet swim standards is near Fletcher Drive. It did meet REC 2 EPA standard for limited recreation, suitable for kayaking.

    All other locations (Frogspot and Rattlesnake park) have been meeting swim standards since the season began.

    Water quality has been very good so far and the City’s notification system is probably the most cautious and protective of any on a recreational river in the State.

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