The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has endorsed a $1 billion plan to restore an 11-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River north of downtown.
The Corps’ support is crucial to efforts to return parts of the river to a more natural state because it manages the river as a flood-control channel.
The news comes after months of lobbying by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on behalf of the $1 billion proposal. Originally the Corps indicated it would back a less ambitious $453 million dollar plan.
"This plan is the plan that Angelenos deserve," Garcetti told reporters at a news conference at a park by the river. "We've been a donor city and a donor state for many decades to Washington. That money is coming back home."
Army Corps Col. Kim Colloton said the agency changed its mind on backing the more expensive option in response to Garcetti's lobbying and efforts to spread the costs across a number of different entities, including the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.
She said the Corps' decision to restore sections of the river "validates its place as a waterway of national significance."
Under the plan concrete would be removed from sections of the river and riverbank. and riverbed habitat would be restored. The project is seen as the catalyst of efforts to increase public access to natural areas and as the engine for private economic development in the area.
But it may take a while before any work begins.
A final report on the project will go to Army Corps headquarters in Washington by the end of the year. The head of the agency must review the report and send it to the White House and Congress, which must vote to fund the project, Colloton said.
"This is not the end of the battle. There's a bigger war to fight out there," said Brian Moore with the L.A. River Revitalization Corporation. "There's a war for money to make sure this project gets continued. There's a war for authorization."
Federal agencies are expected to pick up $500 million of the cost of the restoration while the city will be tasked with raising the rest.
Garcetti made numerous trips to Washington, making his case to everyone from President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to the assistant secretary of defense. He argued that the project needed $1 billion — not the competing $453 million plan — because the cost to buy private property to restore the river is more expensive in L.A.
The mayor also offered to increase the share of the project funded by L.A. from the usual 35 percent to half.
Garcetti has several allies on Capitol Hill. Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer heads the Environment and Public Works Committee. She's been lobbying the Army Corps, urging adoption of the more comprehensive restoration project. Committee staff worked with the City of L.A. and the Assistant Secretary of the Army on the revised cost-sharing proposal. Senator Boxer called the Army Corps announcement a “major step forward.”
In the House, L.A. Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard and Burbank Democrat Adam Schiff worked together to include the L.A. River in the Department of the Interior’s “America’s Great Outdoors” program and lobbied various federal agencies. Schiff says he's "beyond thrilled to learn that the Army Corps is getting behind the visionary and community-endorsed plan to revitalize the Los Angeles River."
The federal dollars to fund the Army Corps' work on the L.A. River would come from a water resources bill. Congress is currently considering such a measure, but the L.A. River allocation is not part of this bill. Usually, Congress takes up a new water resources bill every other year. It's been seven years since Congress approved the last one. Schiff says, "we’re going to do everything we can to make sure the project receives the federal dollars it has been promised, and to see this project to completion."
A restored L.A. River would shed much of its concrete to become parkland with bike trails, marshes and a healthier gravel-bottomed body of water.
This story will be updated.