Ballona Creek

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ballona Creek
Concrete-paved banks of Ballona Creek channel, with palm trees silhouetted at sunrise
Ballona Creek at sunrise
Ballona watershed.png
Ballona watershed
CountryUnited States
RegionLos Angeles County
CitiesLos Angeles, Culver City
Physical characteristics
 • locationLos Angeles, California
 • coordinates34°02′39″N 118°21′12″W / 34.04417°N 118.35333°W / 34.04417; -118.35333[1]
 • elevation110 ft (34 m)
 • location
Playa del Rey - Venice, Los Angeles
 • coordinates
33°57′37″N 118°27′33″W / 33.96028°N 118.45917°W / 33.96028; -118.45917Coordinates: 33°57′37″N 118°27′33″W / 33.96028°N 118.45917°W / 33.96028; -118.45917[1]
 • elevation
0 ft (0 m)[1]
Basin features
 • leftCentinela Creek (south)
 • rightSepulveda Creek (north)

Ballona Creek (Spanish: Río de La Ballona) is an 8.8-mile-long (14.2 km)[2] urbanized river in southwestern Los Angeles County, California that passes Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve and empties into Santa Monica Bay. The Ballona Creek watershed includes a portion of the western Los Angeles basin, from the Santa Monica Mountains on the north, the Harbor Freeway (I-110) on the east, and the Baldwin Hills on the south.

The urban river begins in the historical Rancho Las Cienegas, then passes into the historical Rancho La Ballona, while flowing through Culver City and suburbanized Del Rey before merging with the ocean between the sailboat harbor Marina del Rey and the small beachside community of Playa del Rey.[3]


Duck hunting on the Ballona lowlands, 1890.

During the Pre-Columbian era, Tongva people existed as hunters and gatherers in small villages throughout the Ballona Creek watershed and other parts of the Los Angeles basin. Native American culture and land management practice was disrupted by the arrival of Spanish explorers.[4]

In 1769, the Tongva met their first Europeans when Portola expedition came through on its way north. Continuing west after crossing the Los Angeles River, diarist Fray Juan Crespi noted that the party "came across a grove of very large alders...from which flows a stream of water...The water flowed afterwards in a deep channel towards the southwest". Researchers identified the place as the headwaters of Ballona Creek. The explorers made camp nearby on August 3.[5]

At the time of Spanish settlement, Ballona Creek was a distributary of the Los Angeles River. The Los Angeles River turned to the west just south of present-day Bunker Hill, joining Ballona Creek just to the west of its current channel. However, during a major flood in 1825, the Los Angeles River's course changed to its present channel, and Ballona Creek became a completely distinct waterway.

Around 1820, a mestizo rancher named Augustine Machado began grazing his cattle on the Ballona wetlands and claimed a 14,000-acre Mexican land grant that stretched from modern-day Culver City to Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, California. Ballona Creek and Lagoon are named for the Ballona or Paseo de las Carretas land grant, dated November 27, 1839. The Machado and Talamantes families, co-grantees of the rancho, heralded from Baiona in northern Spain.[6][7] After the Mexican-American War followed by statehood in California History with court decisions, the Ballona land grant claims were lost, and real estate speculation, this area of Los Angeles County experienced rapid growth, with open land being transformed into agricultural use alongside small towns and new cities such as Culver City, Venice (later incorporated into Los Angeles), and Santa Monica.

Much of the above-ground section of the creek was lined with concrete as part of the flood-control project undertaken by the United States Army Corps of Engineers following the Los Angeles Flood of 1938.[8]

Tributary Sepulveda Creek enters Ballona Creek, 405 freeway overpass and Baldwin Hills visible on the right

Watershed and course[edit]

Map of Ballona Creek watershed (2010)

The Ballona Creek watershed totals about 130 square miles (340 km2). Its land use consists of 64 percent residential, 8 percent commercial, 4 percent industrial, and 17 percent open space.[3]

“Headwaters” of Centinela Creek, near La Cienega Blvd.; the 405 freeway is immediately to the left

The major tributaries to the Ballona Creek and estuary include Centinela Creek Channel, Sepulveda Creek Channel and Benedict Canyon Channel; most of the creek's minor tributaries have been destroyed by development or paved over and flow into Ballona Creek as a network of underground storm drains.

Soft-bottom portion of the creek begins after the Centinela crossing; pictured: bike route between Centinela and Milton Green Street Park

Ballona Creek watershed climate can be characterized as Mediterranean with average annual rainfall of approximately 15 inches per year over most of the developed portions of the watershed. The flow rate in the Creek varies considerably from a trickle flow of about 14 cubic feet (0.40 m3) per second during dry weather to 71,400 cubic feet (2,020 m3) per second during a 50-year storm event.[3] Ballona Wetlands and Del Rey Lagoon are connected to the Ballona Estuary through tide gates.


Tributaries of Ballona include:

  • Sepulveda Creek Channel
  • Centinela Creek
  • Benedict Canyon Creek
  • Adams Channel
  • Stone Canyon Creek

Many of these run wholly or partially underground in storm drains that empty into the creek.

Centinela Creek Channel adjacent to the 405 freeway
Benedict Canyon Creek Channel enters Ballona Creek
Stone Canyon Creek, located south of Stone Canyon Reservoir, flows through UCLA as a natural stream and later joins Sepulveda Channel as a storm drain
A desolate and depressing storm drain, yes, but also, the north fork of Sepulveda Creek, a major tributary of Ballona Creek, where it emerges from underground at Military Ave. and Queensland St. in the Westdale neighborhood of Los Angeles

Bridges and crossings[edit]

Above-ground origin point of Ballona Creek, near Venice Boulevard and Cochran Avenue, in the Mid-City neighborhood.

From northern source to southern mouth (year built in parentheses):[9]

  • Begins at South Cochran Avenue
  • South Burnside Avenue (1974)
  • Hauser Boulevard (1974)
California native plants (including Western sycamore, hollyleaf cherry, and prickly pear) landscape an existing footpath near the origin point of Ballona Creek.
As seen from Baldwin Hills, the eastern end of Ballona creek near La Cienega Boulevard.
Looking east from Overland crossing (2016)

Ecology and conservation[edit]

The historical and current wetland and estuarine tidal river at the mouth of Ballona Creek occupied approximately 2,000 acres (810 ha). Although much of the wetland was drained and developed, a portion remains protected. The State of California owns 600 acres (240 ha) of the former wetlands; the CDFW (California Department of Fish and Wildlife) owns 540 acres (220 ha), and the State Lands Commission owns 60 acres (24 ha), including a newly created freshwater marsh. Much of these preserved lands are designated as the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve and despite historic degradation, conditions are improving.

Sea water flows inland at high tide two times daily every 12.5 hours several miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, to this green salt marsh at the junction of Centinela Creek (right) and Ballona Creek (left) as an urban estuary. Centinela Creek brings rainfall water from the southeastern part of the watershed, while Ballona Creek brings rainfall water from the northeastern part of the watershed.


The urbanization of the watershed, and associated with it the pollution of urban runoff and stormwater, has degraded the water quality in Ballona Creek and its estuary. Ballona Creek is listed by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board impaired for fecal coliform, heavy metals, and pesticides.[11]

Dry weather urban runoff and storm water, both conveyed by storm drains, are the primary sources of pollution in the riverine coastal estuary.

“Grocery-store carts and trash litter the creek, joined by flotillas of foam-plastic cups after rainstorms.”[12]

The litter flows into the creek require constant cleanup by the County Department of Public Works and volunteer teams organized by Ballona Creek Renaissance, et al.

Nets and booms strung across the end of the creek attempt to catch as much litter as possible before it enters Santa Monica Bay.

Floating barrier on Ballona Creek


Wetland flora includes pickleweed, marsh heather, saltgrass, salt marsh dodder, arrowgrass, glasswort, alongside a mix of native and naturalized upland plant species including coyote bush, brome, Lewis primrose, iceplant, goldenbush, oxalis, laurel sumac, and ryegrass. Bird species of special interest observed in the reserve include nesting pairs of Belding's Savannah sparrow and foraging use by California least terns.[13]

Coyote warning sign posted at the nearby Playa Vista Riparian Corridor

Urban coyotes[14] and a small population of venomous southern Pacific rattlesnakes[15] live alongside the creek; exercise due caution to protect both the wildlife and visiting humans.


The Ballona Creek Bike Path that extends almost 7 miles (11 km) from National Boulevard in Culver City to Marina Del Rey provides opportunities for recreation in the area.

Birdwatching is popular; the creek and wetlands are recognized as an “Important Birding Area” by the Audubon Society.[16] According to one guide, the best birding opportunities are usually west of Lincoln Boulevard.[17]

Fishing is possible.[18]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1997 movie Volcano, Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones) dropped a 20-story apartment building in a controlled demolition in order to divert a flowing river of lava into Ballona Creek and thus into the Pacific Ocean.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Ballona Creek
  2. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map Archived 2012-03-29 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 2011-10-04
  3. ^ a b c EIP Associates (2004). Ballona Creek Watershed Management Plan (Report). Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  4. ^ Castillo, E. D. (1994). "Gender status decline, resistance, and accommodation among female neophytes in the missions of California: A San Gabriel case study". American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 18 (1): 67–93. Retrieved 18 August 2013. Archived 2013-08-20 at
  5. ^ Bolton, Herbert E. (1927). Fray Juan Crespi: Missionary Explorer on the Pacific Coast, 1769-1774. HathiTrust Digital Library. pp. 148–149. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  6. ^ Erwin G. Gudde; William Bright (2004). California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names. University of California Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-520-24217-3. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
  7. ^ "Early History". Friends of Ballona Wetlands. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
  8. ^ Coastal Conservancy Report (PDF) (Report). 2007-07-16. p. 2. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
  9. ^ "National Bridge Inventory Database". Archived from the original on October 31, 2013. Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  10. ^ "Higuera Street Bridge Replacement Project". Retrieved 2022-06-22.
  11. ^ "Ballona Creek Wetlands EPA Report" (PDF). Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. Retrieved 2022-06-13.
  12. ^ Engle, Jane (2008-08-03). "Winging it on Ballona Creek; Bird-watching is splendid along the L.A. waterway". Los Angeles Times. pp. L5.
  13. ^ Mary Small (2010-07-21). Ballona Wetland Public Access Improvements (PDF) (Report). California Coastal Commission. p. 3. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
  14. ^ Hod, Itay (2019-08-13). "Deadly Coyote Attacks on the Rise in Culver City". Spectrum News1. Retrieved 2022-06-07.
  15. ^ Pridgen, Andrew (2022-05-27). "'They're everywhere': Why California's rattlesnake population is booming".
  16. ^ "Ballona Wetlands (Ballona Valley)". Audubon. 2016-09-12. Retrieved 2022-06-23.
  17. ^ "Guide to Birding Ballona Creek". Always Bring Binoculars. 2022-05-04. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  18. ^ "Fish Species by Location - California Fish Website". Retrieved 2022-06-23.

External links[edit]