EPA chief tours LA River with Mayor Garcetti, talks federal money


On a day when the rain was falling and the river was rising: Mayor Garcetti was talking about removing the concrete banks of the Los Angeles River.

"The technology now exists, landscaping, the ways of moving forward to actually tear up concrete down the line while still keeping the city as safe as it was," said Garcetti.

The river, with its manmade walls, has served as a flood-control tool more than a link to nature, something environmentalists have been fighting for years to change.

"That explains to me why flood management is an issue," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The mayor had hoped to kayak the river with McCarthy, but those plans were abandoned after the river swelled with Thursday's rain runoff.

Garcetti settled for a walking tour, a way to drum up federal support for the river revitalization plan he's lobbying for.

"It's a wonderful place to be where we're all discussing how much money, not whether money will come to this project," said Garcetti.

That money though is a sticking point. Currently the Army Corps of Engineers is supporting a river restoration plan that comes in under $500 million, one of the least-expensive alternatives proposed.

The mayor says the current river restoration plan is too piecemeal and disjointed. He says he's willing to wait for a more comprehensive plan.

"We want to make sure that people are linked all the way along this," said Garcetti. "This is one single emerald necklace instead of just a bunch of unlinked jewels."

The mayor is pressing for what's known as Alternative 20, which would restore hundreds of acres of along an 11-mile stretch of the river, but also cost more than a billion dollars.

As head of the EPA, McCarthy wouldn't officially endorse the mayor's plan, but did say it's important some sort of revitalization happen.

"It's about access to natural beauty and reconnecting people to the wonders of the world. This is a way of doing it right in the city," said McCarthy.

But even on a day when the river was really flowing, it's the flow of funding, not water, that will ultimately decide how much of this concrete stays and how much nature returns.

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