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Los Angeles River Quality

Kayaking in LA River

The Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) operates the recreation zones on a seasonal basis in cooperation with the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, and the Army Corps of Engineers. There are two segments of the Recreation Zone; the 2-mile Sepulveda Basin River Recreation Zone and the 2.5 mile Elysian Valley River Recreation Zone. Both Recreation Zones are open sunrise to sunset daily for walking, fishing, and kayaking from Memorial Day to September 30 every year. For maps and guides and more information on the Recreation Zones see www.lariverrecreation.org.
 

LA Sanitation and Environment staff sample and test water twice a week at three locations in each Recreation Zone, corresponding to the beginning, middle, and end of each zone. Samples are tested in a laboratory for the presence of E. coli bacteria, and for each sample a resulting MPN (Most Probable Number) per 100 milliliters (mL) is determined. The bacteria results at each location are compared to State of California water quality standards for water contact recreation (REC-1 and Limited REC-1) to determine if the water quality, in each Recreation Zone, is suitable for recreational activities. Based on the bacteria levels found, the status of each recreation zone is determined and displayed on the table below according to the following color-code.

2019 Update: Kayaking in the lower portion of the Elysian Valley Recreation Zone will be restricted, due to construction of the Taylor Yard Bridge, and therefore testing for bacteria will not occur at the Lower Elysian Valley Zone sampling site. The status of the Elysian Valley Recreation Zone will be determined by the bacteria levels found in the Upper and Middle Elysian Valley Kayak Zones.

 

Color Code Description
GREEN - OPEN Water quality is suitable for recreational activities, but swimming in the river is still prohibited. Test results indicate bacteria levels lower than 235 MPN, the limit for REC-1.
YELLOW - OPEN (CAUTION) Users should exercise increased caution. Test results indicate bacteria levels between 235 MPN (REC-1) and 576 (Limited REC 1) at one or more of the sampling sites located in the recreation zone or above 576 at only one of the sites.
RED - CLOSED This LA River Recreation Zone is not suitable for recreational activities. Test results indicate levels exceeding 576 MPN (Limited REC-1) at two or more of the sampling sites located in the recreation zone. A Closure Advisory will be issued by the City of Los Angeles and the MRCA will close the recreation zone and post closed signs. The recreation zone will stay closed until further bacteria testing show that the zone is once again suitable for recreational activities.
MRCA CLOSURE Recreation Zone closed by the MRCA, not necessarily due to bacteria testing, but due to one of the following conditions:
  1. Rain storm or flash flood that has the potential to increase the river flow in the recreation zones to unsafe levels.
  2. Run-off of water used to fight fires into the LA River that has the potential to increase flows and/or contamination in the recreation zones to unsafe levels.
  3.  Sewage spill into the LA River that has the potential to raise bacterial contamination in the recreation zones to unsafe levels.
In all cases, MRCA will close the affected recreation zone for 72 hours or until flows have returned to normal and testing indicates that bacteria are at levels safe for recreation.

 


The status of each Recreation Zone is based on the latest bacteria results, but bacteria levels in urban waters can be highly erratic and dependent on a multitude of human and non-human sources. Since elevated bacteria levels can occur at any time in the river, you should always follow these safe practices in order to minimize your risk of getting sick.   

  • Avoid/Minimize water contact
  • Wash your body with soap and water if you contact the water
  • Do not drink the water
  • Contact your health care professional if you become ill after water contact
 

Los Angeles River Watershed Unregulated Swim Sites

People Enjoying the water at a LA River Watersed Unregulated Swim Site
Swimming and wading at freshwater sites located in the Los Angeles River Watershed is popular, particularity during the summer months and on holiday weekends. This is especially true for sites located in the Angeles National Forest such as Sturtevent Falls, Hermit Falls, Switzer Falls, and Eaton Canyon. These sites are unregulated and lack lifeguards, as well as restroom facilities found at regulated sites. Despite the popularity of these sites, little was known about the levels of bacteria at the swimming sites until the Los Angeles River Watershed Monitoring Program (LARWMP) was started in 2009 by the Cities of Los Angeles and Burbank along with its partners, the Council for Watershed Health and Aquatic Bioassay and Consulting Laboratories. Since 2009, LARWMP has monitored bacteria levels at the unregulated swim sites from Memorial Day to Labor Day to help build a better understanding of the water quality and inform the public about the health risks at these popular recreation sites. LARWMP samples and tests for E. coli, at each site, five times a month and compares the bacteria levels to the water quality standards for water contact recreation (REC-1) established by the State Water Resouces Control Board (SWRCB) and Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). Bacteria levels above the REC-1 standard means you have a higher chance of getting sick, especially if you do activities where swallowing of water is reasonably possible, such as swimming with your head underwater.

The table below has the most current E. coli bacteria levels found at each unregulated swim site tested by the City of Los Angeles Environmental Monitoring Division. Concentrations of bacteria which exceed the REC-1 water quality standard for water contact recreation of 235 MPN/100mL are displayed in red to warn you that you are at a higher risk of getting sick if you swim at these sites.
 



 

Lake Balboa

Kayaking in LA River

Lake Balboa is a 27.5-acre lake located in the Sepulveda Basin, which was first filled with reclaimed water from the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant (DCT) in August 1992. The lake is constantly supplied with 15 million gallons of reclaimed water per day from DCT, which runs through the lake and flows out to the Los Angeles River. Swimming is prohibited in the lake, but recreational activities allowed include fishing, boating, jogging, skating, bicycling, and picnicking. Department of Recreation and Parks and LA Sanitation and Environment staff sample and test the water quality at Lake Balboa daily (pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature), weekly (nutrients), and monthly (bacteria and conductivity). The sediments in the lake are tested quarterly for metals and pesticides and compared to the freshwater sediment screening levels determined by the US EPA. Periodically, the fish from Lake Balboa are tested for DDT’s, PCB’s, mercury, and selenium and the concentrations found are compared to the advisory tissue levels established by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to determine if they are safe for consumption.

During the summer (May – September), bacteria testing is increased to twice weekly at two sites in Lake Balboa. Samples are tested in a laboratory for the presence of E. coli bacteria, and for each sample a resulting MPN per 100 mL is determined. The bacteria results for the two locations in the lake are compared to the water quality standards for water contact recreation to determine if the lake is suitable for recreational activities. Based on the bacteria levels found, the status of Lake Balboa is determined and displayed on the table below according to the following color code:
  

Color Code Description
GREEN - OPEN Lake Balboa is suitable for recreational activities. Test results indicate bacteria levels lower than 235 MPN, the limit for REC-1.
YELLOW - OPEN (CAUTION) Users of the lake should exercise increased caution. Test results indicate bacteria levels between 235 MPN and 576 MPN at one or more of the sampling sites located in Lake Balboa or above 576 MPN at one of the sites.
RED - CLOSED Lake Balboa is not suitable for recreational activities. Test results indicate levels exceeding 576 MPN at both sampling sites in Lake Balboa. City of LA lifeguards will restrict access to the lake for any water contact recreational activities, such as boating, until further bacteria testing show that Lake Balboa is once again suitable for recreational activities involving water contact. Although access to the lake is restricted, other recreational activities such as picnicking, jogging, bicycling, etc are still allowed.

 


Bacteria results from previous years at the unregulated swim sites along with more information about the Los Angeles River Watershed Monitoring Program can be found on the Council for Watershed Health website.

Water quality information for additional swimming areas, both salt and freshwater, can be found on the following websites:

LA County Department of Public Health

Heal the Bay

•    Beach Report Card
•    River Report Card
 

LA Water Keeper

•    Swim Guide
 

Los Angeles River Watershed Safety


Recreational activities along the LA River Watershed offer an opportunity to explore the region’s unique geography and biodiversity. When enjoying these recreational opportunities, there are important precautions you can take to ensure a safer experience.

  1. Check Water Quality Monitoring Data – Before you recreate, check the most recent water quality results available on this website or the websites listed above. Once you are informed, you can decide for yourself what level of risk you are comfortable with.

  2. Be Safe When You Recreate – Swallowing water with high concentrations of bacteria may result in gastrointestinal illness and wading may cause rashes and eye, ear, and skin infections. To help minimize risk at all recreation sites:
    • Avoid swimming during and within 72 hours of a rain event
    • Avoid water contact if you have an open wound
    • Obey all regulatory signs (Park and US Forest Service, MRCA, City and other government signs)
    • Avoid water contact if your immune system is compromised (small children and the elderly are at a higher risk of contracting illnesses)

  3. Help Keep the Watershed Clean – The fecal bacteria that enter the waterways may originate from both human and animal sources. You can better protect our water quality and ensure recreational sites are safe for visitors by:
    • Not entering the water if you have/had diarrhea in the last two weeks
    • Cleaning up after your pets no matter where you are! Bacteria from fecal matter, such as pet waste, can wash into our rivers and streams
    • Using restroom facilities before visiting a recreational site
    • Putting trash in appropriate receptacles, especially trash that can introduce fecal waste into streams (diapers, pet waste, toilet paper)
    • Keeping an eye on children in swim diapers and changing the diapers regularly


Remember that the LA River Watershed is home to many plants and animals that are unique to the region, and depend on food and habitat found near the river. Be a good watershed steward by properly disposing of trash, and respecting the diverse habitats found along the rivers and streams of the watershed.