“Rock the Boat” provided a very enlightening view on the L.A. River and how the L.A. city and region has developed around it. Massive flooding in the 1930s ultimately led to the creation of what the L.A. River was largely seen today as: a concrete channel designed to move water and runoff as quickly as possible through the city and into the ocean. The Army Corps was the implementer of this project, and until recent years, they were in charge of the river itself. The river was not used to fulfill any of the city’s water, transportation, or energy needs, as one would find in other major river-based cities such as London or Paris. Los Angeles spent $1 billion a year to import its water—20% of its energy budget. If the river was used for purposes other than a massive concrete drainage canal, it could potentially supply at least 50% of L.A.’s water needs.
In 2006, the Supreme Court determined that the federal government could only protect navigable waters. This suddenly left the L.A. River vulnerable to future development. Not long after this court decision, the Army Corps tried to quietly declare the L.A. River un-navigable in order to enable more development. Thanks to an Army Corps whistleblower, this was revealed to the public. This allowed questions to be raised over whether the L.A. River really was navigable or not. The 2008 River Expedition, which this film documents, detailed the journey of several environmental activists as they kayaked down the entire length of the L.A. River in order to prove that it was navigable and thus belonged in the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency and the public—not the Army Corps. By succeeding in this quest, the L.A. River set a remarkable legal precedent for other American rivers in danger of losing their chances of federal protections.
Since the release of this film in 2012, the L.A. River was included in President Obama’s Urban Rivers Initiative to target urban water revitalization and access. The EPA and Army Corps are working together to push Clean Water Act regulations, and discussions with various groups and organizations are underway to get started on the river. Currently the upper half of the river is getting more attention than the lower half, which is problematic in figuring out how to best restore the river while protecting both people and the environment. Despite the long and complicated journey the L.A. River still has to perhaps positively alter its affect on the L.A. community, at least it now has a chance in becoming more than just a concrete channel.