Environmental group warns public to stay out of L.A. River as kaykers prepare for boat race

Sep 9, 2017

Kayakers preparing to launch into the river in Elysian Valley | Martha Benedict

ELYSIAN VALLEY —  The environmental group Heal the Bay issued a last-minute warning on Friday advising the public to stay out of the L.A. River this weekend after it found “alarmingly high levels of bacterial pollution” in the water earlier this week.

The warning was issued one day before kayakers and canoeists are scheduled to compete in  today’s L.A. River Boat Race in Elysian Valley.  Race organizers said the event will go on, noting that Heal the Bay’s warning was based on water samples taken on Monday following unusual summer showers.  Rain usually increases street and storm drain runoff into the river, raising bacterial levels.

“The race is going to go ahead as planned, with our providing heightened water-quality safety information and wash stations to participants,” said a race spokesperson. “We will also not be operating in the two locations that we know from historic data are most at risk. The timing of Heal the Bay’s announcement is unfortunate for a special event that relies on funding from the city and nonprofits to ensure no one will be turned away. “Why they are propagating the data now instead of earlier this week when it would have been helpful to river users is confusing.”

Heal the Bay said it recorded “very high levels of bacteria” on Sept. 1 and Sept. 4 in the Elysian Valley area.  The results have a “special urgency this weekend” given today’s boat race.

“Rainstorms and poor upstream water quality likely led to the spike in such bacteria levels (the presence of which indicate an elevated risk for ear infections, respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal illnesses for people who come in contact with the water),” the group said on its website. “Heal the Bay urges people to stay out of the water and to delay any planned kayaking trips until water quality results show marked improvement.”

Heal The Bay scientists said they expected updated bacteria counts this weekend, but the results won’t be posted on the organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages until Sunday.

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