Imagine, for a moment, that you lived in this city in 1913. Many things would have been different. Los Angeles only had a population of about 100,000. The city received all the water it needed from the Los Angeles River.
Today, with a population around 4 million people, a single water source isn’t going to cut it. The Los Angeles Aqueduct was the first attempt for the City of Angels to import water from far away, but since then we’ve also taken water from the California Aqueduct and the Colorado River.
Let’s begin by looking at the LA River. Decades ago, out of fear of flooding, the city lined the bottom of the water with concrete in order to steer the water away from peoples’ homes and toward the ocean. Like many engineering projects born of hubris, the concrete channeling created more problems than it solved, and now several groups have begun the slow work of returning the river to its natural state. You can support those groups and also experience the beauty of a natural Los Angeles River by booking a paddling tour.
The California Aqueduct has held a prominent place in the news in recent years due to the many controversies surrounding its management. Whether we’re debating preserving the Delta Smelt or building tunnels to direct more water south, feelings about the water source to the west of the Sierra Nevadas run strong. Bypass the second-hand information and check out the California Aqueduct itself by taking a guided kayak wildlife tour to see all the plants and animals that rely on your drinking water before it reaches the city.
The Colorado River’s most famous outdoors destination is certainly the Grand Canyon. The downside is that like the river itself, this national park destination is ecologically threatened. Being famous for your beauty can be a curse.
Instead of the Grand Canyon, visit the Colorado River’s terminus in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. For years, due to over-diverting, the river dried well before it reached its natural endpoint. Thanks to restoration efforts, now the river touches the sea once more, a reminder of the victory that comes with ecological vigilance.