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Corps removes 144 tons of debris from San Gabriel River

A southward view of the San Gabriel River as seen from the former Puente Largo Railway Bridge, a pedestrian and bicycle bridge spanning the wide since 1989. Eight people and eight dogs had to be rescued near here from the normally dry arroyo after the river grew faster and deeper from heavy rain and snow during the weeklong cleanup by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, March 6-13.

Posted on March 29, 2023

In a continuing project to improve the health of the San Gabriel River and reduce risk to the public, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District cleared 144 tons of litter and debris March 6-13 from a stretch of riverbed near Azusa.

The land along the river is maintained by the LA District for flood-risk management.

Local communities requested assistance in removing trash from abandoned homeless encampments on Corps-managed land near the riverbed.

Representatives with the LA District’s Operations Division and the Corps’ LA District park rangers partnered with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Azusa Police Department and LA County Animal Care and Control’s Major Case Unit to conduct a final safety inspection, ensuring the encampment was unoccupied – including pets – and to document its remnants.

The use of the Corps’ project lands for homeless encampments is prohibited by the agency’s regulations and Los Angeles County, as it presents a health and safety hazard to homeless individuals, residents, the environment and wildlife.

Any remaining unhoused individuals were given a 72-hour notice before work began. Assistance to the homeless within the debris field along the San Gabriel River was offered by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in the days preceding the cleanup.

“We strive to protect the lives and safety of those homeless during these cleanups,” said LA District project manager Trevor Snyder.

Contracted workers descended into the riverbed near San Gabriel River Reach 12 early March 6 to fill large dumpsters of trash by hand, along with significant debris washed downstream from recent heavy rains. Aerosol paint cans, propane tanks, gasoline cans and other items that can explode during wildfires were removed from the site. One of the more difficult large items dragged out of the river was a soggy king-sized waterbed.

“Over an area of 68 acres, the Army Corps filled 18 40-cubic yard dumpsters, totaling 144 tons of trash and debris,” Snyder said.  “While the focus is on removing floatable debris from the flood-risk management project and decreasing associated fire risks that these camps bring to our local communities, it is important to note that illegally domiciling in a river is very dangerous.”

An atmospheric river dumped record amounts of rain and snow before, during and immediately following the cleanup, resulting in eight people and eight dogs being rescued from the San Gabriel River March 13 in Azusa, after they were swept away by fast-moving waters, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Once the debris was out of the riverbed, a tracked skid helped the workers fill the 18 roll-off dumpsters. No heavy equipment was used in the riverbed, so as not to disturb bird-nesting season, Snyder added.

Much of the cleanup centered around the former Puente Largo Railway Bridge, which was built in 1907. The rail bridge was converted to a pedestrian and bicycle bridge spanning the wide riverbed in 1989.


The 58-mile San Gabriel River flows southward through Los Angeles and Orange counties – from the San Gabriel Mountains to the heavily populated San Gabriel Valley, and a significant part of the Los Angeles coastal plain – before emptying into the Pacific Ocean between the cities of Long Beach and Seal Beach.


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