After months of planning and coordinating with local partners and four weeks of hard work, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District completed a project cleaning homeless encampment debris from the banks of the San Gabriel River and San Jose Creek near Whittier Narrows Dam, Oct. 22, in the San Gabriel Valley, California.
“This debris cleanup was imperative to the upcoming multi-year sediment and vegetation removal at the confluence of San Gabriel River and San Jose Creek,” said Lt. Col. Malia Pearson, program manager.
Setting up the project to remove so much trash from such a large area at the convergence of creek and river began last spring. Before the project could begin, the District Operations Division partnered with multiple city and county agencies, including neighborhood organizations. Signage advising the cleanup was coming was posted Sept. 13, and LA county social services and Veterans Affairs combed the wooded banks, offering assistance to those found camping on the Corps managed land.
Pearson said the cleanup was necessary as preparation for a future levee repair project that could begin in 2024, depending on funding.
“This levee repair project will address the safety concerns for the city of South El Monte and especially the neighborhood behind the western levee should the levee fail,” Pearson explained, noting the western levee has been eroded due to the impingement caused by the sediment at the confluence.
Living in a riverbed is always a dangerous risk, Pearson added, noting the campsites were within the boundaries of the levees.
“The occurrence of flash flooding with the LA basin is always a potential concern,” she said. “Should flooding occur, these individuals would be in grave danger. For their safety, we worked closely with law enforcement and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to find safer accommodations.”
Work began daybreak on Sept. 27 in San Jose Creek. Contractors hauled trash, shopping carts, bundles of Arundo donax reeds used to build campsites, abandoned vehicles, propane tanks and gasoline cans from abandoned illegal campsites. Scores of big dumpsters were filled and refilled until the last semi pulled away.
“A total of 82 40-cubic-yard dumpsters were filled, removing 575 tons of trash and debris in the San Jose Creek and San Gabriel River,” said Corps project manager Trevor Snyder. Snyder was responsible for the collaboration effort with partner agencies such as LAHSA, LA County Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and more. “A massive undertaking.”
About 120 acres of riverbank northeast of the interchange of Interstate 605 and State Route 60 were cleaned of debris during the four-week project.
An adjacent stretch of land along the San Gabriel managed by the LA District was cleaned up about a year ago. The Corps maintains more than 50 miles of channels and levees within the San Gabriel, Los Angeles and Rio Hondo rivers, and Compton and Ballona creeks.