Ballona Creek once meandered through the Ranchos of the Los Angeles Basin. During the rainy season, it and several other small streams would be transformed into torrents as they carried the collected water from the Los Angeles watershed area to the Santa Monica Bay. It would flood large areas of the Los Angeles basin, and the creek’s course shifted as that flooding carved new paths through the land.
The County of Los Angeles began straightening the creek around 1920 in order to protect the growing metropolis from potentially devastating flood damage. During the 1930’s, the Army Corps of Engineers carved it into a large channel and lined all but its last couple of miles with concrete to speed the water’s flow to the ocean. An extensive system of drains, mostly underground, was built to funnel stormwater into the creek. While these projects were effective in accomplishing the task at hand, the transformation of the creek from a natural waterway into a massive stormdrain has broken a link in the ecological chain and severed the connection between the community and the land on which it resides.
Today, Ballona Creek is a nine-mile-long flood control channel. It drains the Ballona Creek watershed, which covers approximately 130 square miles: from the Santa Monica mountains on the north to the Baldwin Hills on the south, and from the Harbor Freeway (110) on the east to eastern edge of Santa Monica. A paved service road for County maintenance vehicles runs along the westernmost seven miles, striped for a bike path.
During dry weather the creek flows with urban runoff; the water level and speed increase dramatically during storms. That runoff contains all sorts of pollutants from our air, yards, businesses, schools, and streets – trash, animal waste, oil and grease, pesticides and fertilizers, industrial chemicals. One often finds large items, such as shopping carts, which have been dumped in the creek. Algae accumulates in some places and graffiti in others.
About four miles of the creek lie within the City of Culver City. The rest of it is in the City of Los Angeles and, near the coast, the County of Los Angeles. Depending on location, these agencies share responsibility for maintenance and management of the creek and bikepath with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Gaining a deeper understanding of Ballona Creek, its history, and its place in our community will help you to recognize the importance of our goal: to revitalize it and reintegrate it into the life of the region.