The annual cleanup of the Los Angeles River has special meaning for thousands of volunteers who are helping this year. The community effort that takes place on three Saturdays in April highlights a precious resource in drought-stricken California - water.
The river has been featured in many Hollywood films, including the 1978 musical Grease.
On this particular day, the water is flowing, despite the statewide drought. Much of it comes from treated sewage or runoff on the rare days when it rains.
Volunteers remove tons of accumulated trash from the river, which is famously a concrete flood channel in some places, but a living waterway in others.
Volunteer Mike Conkle said virtually every kind of trash could be found in the waterway.
“Bolts, glass, batteries. Pretty much anything you can think of that you might have thrown away at one point or another, it is in the river,” he said.
There are lots of plastic bags and bottles and some larger articles, including shopping carts and a bicycle.
Bridgette Bowes, a volunteer from nearby Disney Studios, said, “I think it is a great opportunity, not only for the environment to be able to come out and clean and give back, but it is your neighborhood, so you should really want to take care of your own neighborhood.”
At a mobile educational display, volunteers learn of the history and plans for the LA River. Stephen Mejia-Carranza of the group Friends of the LA River pours water on a model of the city, explaining that a revitalized waterway is an important part of the local ecosystem.
“That plays a key role in securing our water supply. At least here locally. It is one of the many ecosystem services that the LA River could provide for us,” he said.
Strolling musicians provided entertainment for the event, which has become an annual celebration.
The founder of the group Friends of the LA River, Lewis MacAdams, said attitudes have changed since he started in 1986.
“People think of the river now as something of curiosity, of interest, and increasing a place of recreation and education,” he said.
Volunteer Mike Gibson said the river has a lesson for the drought.
“It is taking this valuable commodity not for granted, and doing our best to preserve it and cherish it,” he said.
And, he said, to learn to live with our natural environment.
The Los Angeles River has been revitalized on parts of its 80-kilometer route and local and federal officials plan to restore more of the river to its natural state during the coming decades.