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It’s All About Water | love San Fernando Valley

4th Largest Unofficial City in America!

It’s All About Water

Water makes our life in Los Angeles possible. There were two big water issues that the colonists and pioneers dealt with in the early years. It was either 1) too much turbulent water during flood season, or 2) not enough water during the dry season to support a population larger than the Native Americans.  The Los Angeles region is not a desert. There is natural water from the aquifer under the SFV floor. But the semi-arid Mediterranean climate was a huge draw to folks from the midwest and eastern US. So, getting more water became a big demand — especially in a region prone to repeated droughts.

The natural source of water:

Indian villages along the river

friends of LA River

Dealing with floods:

Why the LA River is channelized

Photos from 1938 floods that caused the LA River to be cemented into channels


Recreation Areas

Devastating floods have been a part of Los Angeles and Valley history since the very first Spanish building was put up in 1771 (the first San Gabriel Mission). The Native Americans had long learned where to site their villages up out of the way. It would take the Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans doing it the wrong way before they learned how to deal with flooding. For the most part, the skies are blue.   But when it rains, water surged down the steep slopes of the mountains, churned across the flat plains, swept away frail human buildings. The eastern edge of SFV was hit time and again by flood waters from the Big Tujunga and Little Tujunga Creek before they joined the Los AngelesRiver near Cahuenga Pass.

After the horribly catastrophic floods of 1938, the task of saving the city was given to the Army Corp of Engineers. Within two years, they constructed the largest earthen dam in the world, then devised a series of smaller dams, holding ponds and channels across the SFV. They cemented in the unpredictable Los Angeles River, which originates on the western side of the Valley and ends at Long Beach, 48 miles away. Once it was channeled, all native species were wiped out in the river. But today the small ponds in the recreation areas are stocked for fisherman.

The Dams

Hansen Dam Recreation Area

11770 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace  91342 /Osborne Avenue

One mile downstream from the confluence of the Big Tujunga and Little Tujunga sat the horse ranch of Homer and Marie Hansen at the northeastern edge of SFV. The Army Corp of Engineers confiscated their land, though honored them by naming the new dam for them. Employing 1000 construction workers, they built the 1/4 mile wide base, 97 foot high, 2 mile long dam in just two years. At the time, it was the largest earthen dam in the world. The dam doesn’t stop flood water, but slows it down. There once was 150 acre Holiday Lake, a favorite place to sail, waterski and swim (hence the name of the neighborhood that once overlooked the lake: Lake View Terrace). Due to budget constraints, the lake was allowed to silt up, leaving just a remnant today.

The trade-off is that the lake bottom has since been filled by riparian habitat, chaparral, and woodlands. Miles of horse and hiking trails run up through the canyons. A large equestrian center at the Gabrielino/Tongva Park is just one recreational opportunity in the dam complex.  There are children’s playgrounds, a skateboard park, library, children’s Discovery Center, picnic areas, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds. If you like playing golf, flying model airplanes or racing remote controlled boats, there’s a spot for you. A large fishing lake, and the largest swim center west of the Mississippi for 2800 swimmers are super popular.

An easy walk or bike ride across Hansen Dam gives you an incredible panorama of SFV. There’s a small parking lot and exercise station at the top of the dam on the Osborne entrance. Take your camera on a clear morning or evening. Watch out for strong winds blowing down from the mountain canyons. They can knock kids off their bikes.

There are favorite views from here. To the southeast, the distinctive Cahuenga Peak is clearly visible. At its base is the Verdugo adobe where one of the greatest transfers of land took place when the Mexican Californios signed the Treaty of Hidalgo. They gave up their fight against the Americans in 1846, losing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. This is the point when America achieved its thrust for Manifest Destiny — the country now stretched from coast to coast. It happened right there below Universal Studios.

The eastern boundary of the SFV are the Verdugo Mountains. Behind the dam is the northern boundary of the SFV, the wall of imposing San Gabriel Mountains. Facing them, the highest point to the right is Mt.Wilson. Below is Sunland. You’re looking over an ancient Kizh/Tongva village, Tujunga.

Straight ahead is the Little Tujunga Canyon. Up the road is the California Polo Club,Wildlife Waystation, and Gold Creek Park . Before those existed, what you’re looking at all belonged to pioneer filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s Paradise Ranch — stretching all the way up the wash as far as you can see. Middle Ranch, his horse ranch, a director’s 1914 house where a young John Wayne hung out, and DeMille’s daughter’s home sit in the Lake View Terrace neighborhood. It’s the vicinity where the actors practiced the chariot race for his epic “The Ten Commandents,” DeMille’s last film.

Slightly to the left is the narrow opening to Lopez Canyon. It’s named for  the majordomo at San Fernando Mission who found gold at Placerita Canyon and set off the first California gold rush in 1842. Further left, at the edge of the mesa with the trucking company on top, was the ranch property owned by DeMille’s movie-making rival D.W. Griffith. He made a silent westerns here. If you look far west to the low edge of the SFV, you can see the easiest route out of Sylmar towards Santa Clarita up I-5.


Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area

6300 Balboa Blvd, Van Nuys 91316

Sepulveda Basin provides flood control for the Los Angeles River flowing through the southern valley 13 miles south of Hasen Dam. One “wild” section of the river remains in the SFV, and it’s through this area. In the summer, a private group operates canoe trips.

The central attraction for families and walkers is Lake Balboa within the 80 acre Anthony C. Beilenson Park (main entrance Balboa Blvd). The water comes from the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant operated by the Dept. of Power and Water. The jogging path around the lake is 1.3 miles. It’s especially beautiful when the cherry trees blossom in the spring. There’s no swimming in the lake, but peddle boats are fun to rent, fly fishing is a popular pastime with the older crowd, and remote controlled boats have a designated cove along the banks. The children’s’ park and picnic tables are always in use. Birthday parties are scheduled all weekend long.

In the adjacent Woodley Park (main entrance Victory/Woodley), the variety of recreational choices offer something for everyone: a flight field, archery, baseball, BBQ pits, children’s play area, and a wildlife preserve. Volunteers offer birding walks on Saturdays. For those expats of the British Commonwealth, there is a cricket field.

A hidden treasure built around the reclamation plant is the traditional Japanese Garden. Weddings are popular here, as well as renting out the tea house for intimate events.

6100 Woodley Ave, Van Nuys 91406
(818) 756-8166

Two pocket parks tucked into the area are Jesse Owens Park and Louise Park, with basketball and baseball facilities.

Runners challenge themselves by circling the outside of the entire fenced complex, heading past a golf course, soccer complex, and baseball diamonds. The cemented culvert below the Sepulveda dam is a frequent movie filming location.

Getting more water:

Mulholland is the name associated with getting more water to Los Angeles by building an aqueduct from Owens Lake 225 miles away, annexing the San Fernando Valley, and providing the background for the movie Chinatown. And what a story it is!

SFV Granny’s grandfather-in-law (if there is such a title) played a role in bringing water to Los Angeles. It was William Holt’s job to get the most recalcitrant farmers to give up their water rights. He was a supreme closer, brought in when no one else could convince the farmer to sign on the dotted line. He’d get down in the ditch to shovel alongside to win over the property owner.

As you may know, Mulholland built a dam that burst. Watch newsreels and a YouTube video about the disaster.