Room for the River: Los Angeles

A conference exploring climate change adaptation strategies, sustainable development, and the Dutch experience

May 16-17, 2013

The City and County of Los Angeles and partners hosted a workshop and symposium organized in cooperation with the Consulate General of the Netherlands to explore the role of the Los Angeles River in the coming decades. The event built on initiatives focused on the river and examined ways we can collaborate to achieve multiple benefits simultaneously: managing flood risk, increasing local water supplies, developing green infrastructure, and guiding sustainable urban development. We hope that the proceedings will serve as a basis for continued dialogue and exploration of solutions associated with the future of the Los Angeles River and, by extension, offer insight into the global role of urban rivers in times of climate change.

The Dutch Experience

In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina, Ike and Sandy, experts turned to the Netherlands to learn from its 800-year experience in managing water in an urban coastal zone. After two near-floods along Dutch rivers in 1993 and 1995, and given climate change and the likelihood of more extreme weather, the Dutch designed and are currently implementing a new approach to managing its rivers and floodplains, known as Room for the River.

This $3.1 billion highly collaborative program aims to restore natural floodplains and integrate planning and river management processes to lower flood risk while improving an area’s spatial function and quality. This new, more holistic approach inherent in Room for the River is also being combined with a Building with Nature strategy that recognizes the dynamic power of natural ecosystem functions.

Experience from the Room for the River program was shared by Dutch experts, who demonstrated how innovative models merging science, technology, and collaborative processes can help solve similar floodplain, water resources, development, infrastructure and planning challenges along the Los Angeles River.

Goals

The event provided opportunities for knowledge sharing and networking across disciplines and countries. The goal was to lay the framework to support continued exploration of climate change adaptation strategies in Los Angeles to help preventatively minimize adverse consequences of evolving environmental conditions while guiding innovative and sustainable urban development.

Program

The first day and a half of the program brought together a small working group of invited experts from the two countries to consider what physical, political and policy adaptations may be necessary to support a resilient Los Angeles in the 21st-century. The second day took a wider and multi-disciplinary scope, concluding with a public symposium.