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Future of Silver Lake Reservoir Could Be with the L.A. River

At a meeting on June 19 inside the Micheltorena Elementary School Auditorium, Silver Lake residents, including Dion Neutra, a reservoir-adjacent homeowner and son of architecture icon Richard Neutra, gathered to hear about the future of the Silver Lake Reservoir.

An unquestioned amenity around the neighborhood, the Silver Lake Reservoir often hosts families basking in the sunshine, joggers getting some healthy exercise, and pet-lovers taking their dogs out for a walk. It is a seeming idyllic paradise, but new water quality regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires the L.A. Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to fully decommission the reservoir. The Ivanhoe Reservoir, the upper body of water, is currently an open source of drinking water. The Silver Lake Reservoir, the lower body of water, was taken offline in 2008.

LADWP's current preferred plan is to tunnel underneath the reservoir to maintain the water supply connection, but re-fill the Ivanhoe and Silver Lake Reservoirs after work is done. The community is still weighing the pros and cons of such a plan, but the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy (SLRC) is looking farther into the future.

"We see the reservoir not just as a source of direct public benefit, but playing a larger, environmental role," said Craig Collins, president of SLRC. Collins sees this as the perfect opportunity to revisit the Silver Lake Reservoir's role in the overall Los Angeles watershed.

While LADWP might see this project as simply a re-routing of current systems to maintain water supply, SLRC instead envisions a multi-benefit project that would preserve the reservoirs and also add to the health of the Los Angeles River. SLRC is proposing a plan that would hook up the Los Angeles River system to the reservoirs, establishing a two-way connection. "There's a whole lot of legacy infrastructure around the reservoir," said Collins as we met over coffee a week before DWP's community presentation.. "With that, we can do a lot of interesting things."

Regional water management solution for the Silver Lake Reservoirs | Courtesy of Craig Collins

At the meeting Collins brought up one intriguing possibility. What if we could use the current pipes (some of them forgotten) and rework them into a mutually beneficial system? Excess recycled water that LADWP produces could flow into the reservoir instead of being flushed out to the ocean. LADWP's Final Urban Water Management Plan already projects increased water treatment capacity by 2035 (see page 90). During dry seasons, water from the reservoir could feed into the Los Angeles River, helping it maintain its wetland environment.

Collins says, based on his research and publicly available reports, the bare bones of that system already exists. Echo Park Lake is similarly tied to the Los Angeles River. It discharges to Reach 3, a 5-mile long storm drain between the Arroyo Seco and Washington Boulevard that is a tributary to the Los Angeles River (See pages 2-6 here)

Without Collins' proposed system, it would cost about $1 million to initially fill the reservoir after LADWP's intervention, then another $250,000 to maintain the facilities based on estimates by LADWP. The cost would all be for a aesthetic, community benefit. This option would not only provide a cost-effective means of filling the reservoir, but it sets the foundation for some other public benefits.

Addtionally, Los Angeles needs a place to store its water to slow down the river during peak flooding, according to Collins. So why not include Silver Lake Reservoir as part of that bigger picture? He estimates that the reservoir could store about 2,400 acre-feet of water.

That excess water could feed into wetland areas surrounding the reservoir, adding to the city's public space and enhancing the natural environs of Los Angeles. Bio-filtration structures would help clean urban runoff in the Silver Lake micro-watershed, which would someday find its way down to the Los Angeles River.

It is a well researched proposal, but one that needs a formal study, which cannot be done without the help of LADWP. That is why SLRC is calling for a feasibility study to be conducted focused on the future of the Silver Lake Reservoirs. "The reservoirs isn't just a community benefit," said Collins. "It's part of the whole Los Angeles River revitalization."

Get involved with the future of the reservoirs at www.silverlakereservoirs.org.



Top: Conceptual wetlands design for the Silver Lake Reservoir by Robert Lamb, produced for the Dryland Design conference Sprin 2012. Visuals courtesy of Craig Collins.

[Edited 7/12: This article has been edited to clarify that Ivanhoe Reservoir is the one that supplies drinking water, and that the Silver Lake Reservoir was taken offline in 2008.]

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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