Jurisdictions, Ownership, and Rights
The typical LA River right-of-way includes flood management structures such as the channel, levees, and access roads, which are primarily maintained by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District (LACFCD) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
Currently, the USACE and the LACFCD each maintain approximately half of the LA River. Permits for projects along the LA River are issued by these two entities depending on project typology and location.
LA River Maintenance Responsibilities
In some reaches, various recreational amenities such as bike paths, parks, and trails are found within the right-of-way of the LA River. In other areas, recreational amenities are outside of the right-of-way but directly adjacent. Recreational amenities are maintained by several parties, including municipal entities and special interest groups. The LA County Department of Parks and Recreation has multiuse trail jurisdiction along about ten miles of the LA River.
Ownership of the approximately 2,300 acres of land within the LA River right-of-way varies. The LACFCD owns the largest portion of the right-of-way, but the USACE, municipalities, and private owners also own portions of the right-of-way. Where municipal or private interests own parcels within the channel, easements for operations and maintenance exist to allow the LACFCD and USACE to operate and maintain LA River facilities.
There are 17 municipalities, including very large cities like LA and Long Beach and smaller cities like Cudahy and Bell, located within one mile of the LA River and 45 municipalities within the LA River Watershed. Municipalities control land use policies within their limits and are often the primary leaders of projects within or near the LA River ROW.
The LA River is one of the “Waters of the United States” according to the Code of Federal Regulations, and is, therefore, a protected water body under the jurisdiction of the State Water Resources Control Board and the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board (Region 4) for compliance with the Clean Water Act. Additional regulatory oversight pertaining to water quality is provided by the USACE through the Section 404 program (dredge and fill) and the State of California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) through the Section 1600 program (Lake and Streambed Alteration).
Two state of California conservancies have leadership roles related to the LA River, including the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the San Gabriel and Lower LA Rivers and Mountains Conservancy.
Water rights within the LA River watershed are governed by California water law and cover both surface and groundwater use. The types of water rights that govern in the LA River watershed include
- Pueblo water rights recognize rights the Spanish and Mexican governments granted to the original Pueblos to use the streams and rivers. For the Upper Los Angeles River above the confluence with the Arroyo Seco, these rights pertain to the City of Los Angeles’ surface water rights to the LA River and the native groundwater contained within the San Fernando Groundwater Basin. The City of Los Angeles’ Pueblo rights are superior to other water rights within the LA River watershed upstream of the confluence with the Arroyo Seco.
- Appropriative water rights are given for diversion and beneficial use of water to users away from the water body. These rights are applied for, and granted by, the California State Water Resources Control Board.
- Riparian water rights grant landowners of land adjacent to surface waters the right to divert enough water for use on the adjacent property. If not specifically disassociated through a sales or other agreement or decree, properties adjacent to a stream have the potential to divert water for beneficial use on that property.
- Adjudicated groundwater rights cover the groundwater basins under the LA River watershed, namely the Upper Los Angeles River Area groundwater basins (San Fernando, Sylmar, Verdugo, and Eagle Rock basins), the Central Basin, and the West Coast Basin, which are covered under adjudication rules. Adjudication refers to the distribution of groundwater rights to pumpers and users. Under common law, landowners can extract as much groundwater from beneath their property as they can put to beneficial use. However, in these basins, adjudications serve to establish how much water is appropriate based on the hydrogeology and area of
each owner’s land and the attainment of beneficial uses.