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The Real Deal Los Angeles

Construction of an inflatable dam on the LA River could begin by January

It would be the largest piece of infrastructure constructed on the river since the 1930s

The Los Angeles River (Credit: Getty Images)

Not too long ago, renowned architect Frank Gehry told an audience at Urban Land Institute’s Fall meeting that he’s given up hope on the 51-mile concrete-ridden Los Angeles River.

Now, at least one group is trying to prove Gehry wrong.

Metabolic Studio is currently awaiting the proper permits to build an inflatable dam near the North Broadway Bridge in hopes that it would help keep more water in the river and reduce wastewater runoff into the Pacific Ocean, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Map of Los Angeles River (Credit: Permit 21342: Right to Divert and Use Water from the Los Angeles River via Metabolic Studio)

The dam would create an impoundment area that would support a 70-foot water wheel with buckets designed to lift and then drop 80 gallons of water per minute. The wheel would divert a small amount of water into a landscaped stream and irrigation system, and then dispose the remaining water back into the river. Think greenery among the slabs of concrete.

Officials said the dam could serve as a template for other sites along the river. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and city Department of Public Works-Bureau of Engineering identified 10 potential sites for rubber dams.

The Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation would operate the $10 million project for Metabolic Studio, an Annenberg Foundation charitable enterprise led by Lauren Bon. Hydrologist and project contributor Mark Hanna said he expects a permit by year’s end and construction to begin as early as January 2018.

Critics of the proposed infrastructure argue that a network of rubber dams in the river would drive more development along a channel that U.S. Geological Survey scientists say is prone to catastrophic flooding every 100 to 200 years. One University of Southern California scientist warned about the potential of creating a bullfrog breeding ground with the inflatable dams.

If approved, the dam would be the largest infrastructure addition constructed on the river since the late 1930s, when it was diverted to a concrete flood-control channel. [LAT]Natalie Hoberman