Our View: City washes can be green assets, not just concrete drains

May 16, 2019 GMT

Lake Havasu City has a 77-mile-long wash problem, an inevitable result of building a city on an alluvial fan where water finds its own path downhill.

When it rains, torrents of water threaten roads, bridges and private property along the wash paths. The resulting erosion weakens structures and banks, make problems worse the next time it rains.

City government has a master plan for stabilizing most of the washes, an expensive undertaking that relies both on local taxpayer money and non-local government funds.

All told, removing the damage threat from city washes will take decades of work. Given the expense, that’s probably a very good thing. Just the next five years of wash stabilization work is expected to cost up to $12 million.


There’s definitely a high price to be paid for placing a city on what is essentially an erosion debris field. The question is whether there isn’t an opportunity for making these washes something better, a source of community pride and recreation, a green necklace that connects neighborhoods and puts nature on display at the same time.

Given the expense of simply stabilizing the washes with a lot of concrete – a cost likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the decades ahead – why attempt to get fancy with it? Why look at something costing double or even triple that amount?

The answer really lies a half century in the future when those Lake Havasu City residents look back and wonder why the washes have to look like ugly concrete scars on an otherwise beautiful city.

It’s much as current residents wonder why there are few curbs and sidewalks and why so many washes send water over roads instead of under them.

The answers are likely the same: It was (or, in the case of the wash work, will be ) the cheapest way to get the job done, even though it still cost plenty.

The city learned a lot from its Pima Wash project. It has a paved walkway but it still collects tons of storm debris. Concrete structures that temper the flow of water are also collection points for branches and trash from storm runoff.

Cities take different approaches to washes. Scottsdale tries to maintain as many natural washes as possible and some are almost park-like but it’s difficult because it faces the same erosion issues. A San Fernando Valley project outside Los Angeles is turning the large Pacoima Wash into a bona-fide park while still channeling storm runoff.

It’s possible to get pretty far out there in terms of costs for these projects. Still, while it may not be realistic to turn a dream into full reality, city government should look at executing stabilization projects that don’t foreclose the option of making improvements to the washes in the future.

It’s unlikely much of the current population will be around then, but the future residents should know the early 21st century citizens considered that these washes can be turned into civic assets and not just 77 miles of concrete drain.

— Today’s News-Herald