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Harvard students help Corps inspect portion of Los Angeles River

Public Affairs
Published Sept. 30, 2013
The District conducts pre- and post-flood season visual inspections of flood control channels built and operated or maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  On Sept. 25, District personnel, along with graduate student volunteers from Harvard University identified native and non-native plants and observed damage, like undercutting, in a portion of the channel.

The District conducts pre- and post-flood season visual inspections of flood control channels built and operated or maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On Sept. 25, District personnel, along with graduate student volunteers from Harvard University identified native and non-native plants and observed damage, like undercutting, in a portion of the channel.

The District conducts pre- and post-flood season visual inspections of flood control channels built and operated or maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  On Sept. 25, District personnel, along with graduate student volunteers from Harvard University identified native and non-native plants and observed damage, like undercutting, in a portion of the channel.

The District conducts pre- and post-flood season visual inspections of flood control channels built and operated or maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On Sept. 25, District personnel, along with graduate student volunteers from Harvard University identified native and non-native plants and observed damage, like undercutting, in a portion of the channel.

The District conducts pre- and post-flood season visual inspections of flood control channels built and operated or maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  On Sept. 25, District personnel, along with graduate student volunteers from Harvard University identified native and non-native plants and observed damage, like undercutting, in a portion of the channel.

The District conducts pre- and post-flood season visual inspections of flood control channels built and operated or maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On Sept. 25, District personnel, along with graduate student volunteers from Harvard University identified native and non-native plants and observed damage, like undercutting, in a portion of the channel.

LOS ANGELES — Ironically, the proverbial expression “killing two birds with one stone” applies to a kayaking inspection undertaken by Los Angeles District personnel and 14 graduate students from Harvard University in a two-mile section of the Los Angeles River Sept. 25. 

Neither party was interested in “harming birds,” but both saw the opportunity to collaborate to accomplish compatible goals. 

The District is bound by the Code of Federal Regulations which requires pre- and post-flood season visual inspections of flood control channels built and operated or maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The Harvard graduate students are part of a landscape architecture and urban planning and design class that is exploring the Los Angeles River as a mechanism of change that can positively impact the future of Los Angeles and revolutionize the way people improve urban watersheds.  Both parties needed to get a close-up view of the river and worked to formalize an agreement whereby the students volunteered to assist the District.

“The students were able to help our maintenance personnel identify native and non-native plant species, as well as damage or undercutting that had developed in the channel,” said Steve Dwyer, chief of Navigation Branch, Project Management Division.  “The timing of the students’ visit was perfect, since there is so much interest in the river because of the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study.”    

Kayaks and protective gear were donated by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, who also provided park rangers to lead and assist the group.  Everyone in the inspection party also donned an orange construction safety vest.

The inspection began near Marsh Park in the Elysian Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles, which is adjacent to a nine-mile section of the river that has a natural, soft bottom instead of concrete.  The trip ended by Steelhead Park, not far from the confluence of the 5 and 110 freeways. 

“The students gained an understanding of the Corps responsibilities associated with maintenance of the river and of the opportunities that are possible in realizing the river’s potential,” said Harvard’s Visiting Design Critic in Landscape Architecture Gerdo Aquino.

Aquino said the class, through a series of field trips, workshops and lectures, will explore new open space typologies that could include river specific recreation venues, bridges, parks, development opportunities, flood control design and alternative transit strategies. 

Prior to going to the river, each student talked about his or her intended project during an introductory session held at the District office and heard from the Corps about its involvement in the Los Angeles River. 

“The study focuses on an 11-mile stretch of the river that aims to restore ecological value and habitat, and the section we will be inspecting falls within the study area,” Dwyer told the students. “You will be able to see the constraints and considerations in the area, like the existence of levees, utilities, rail, land availability, cultural and historic sites, and other largeā€scale infrastructure.  Keep in mind that the number one priority of the study is to restore habitat while preserving the flood protection that is provided by the existing channel system.” 

Aquino invited Dwyer and other Corps leaders to participate in the panel that will review the students’ projects. 

“As a leader in the community of Los Angeles, and as a supporter of seeing the Los Angeles River become a more integral part of the city, your vision and thoughts for the future of the river are extremely important,” Aquino said.  “We hope you can provide the students with your unique point of view and formally participate.”

The students’ projects are due to the Harvard panel the week of Dec. 11.