Posts tagged Silver Lake Reservoir

Silver Lake Reservoir photo by Michael Kansas Sebastian/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Silver Lake Reservoir in happier full capacity times. Photo by Michael Kansas Sebastian/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Recycled Water, Groundwater to Refill Silver Lake Reservoir: A recent AHBE Lab post about the future of the Silver Lake Reservoir pondered where the water to refill and maintain the Reservoir would come from. Now we know: “Recycled wastewater and groundwater will most likely be used to refill Silver Lake Reservoir by this time next year, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials told a community meeting Thursday night.”

Rising Tides: Designing Resilient Amenities for Coastal Cities: “Some developers are making the strategic decision to not purchase on waterfronts or in flood zones, and yet other projects close to water are choosing to demonstrate innovation and lead the way because people love being near the water. Water is a magnet.”

California is backsliding on water conservation. L.A. can’t and won’t follow suit: “…the state’s conservation efforts are already backsliding. Urban water savings dropped significantly in July from last year’s mandatory program. Here in the Southland, the most glaring example of this new freedom to waste comes from Malibu-Topanga area residents, who use an average of 254 gallons of water per day — more than 8% higher than a year ago and more than five times higher than residents in Huntington Park, Paramount and East LA.”

More Developers Kick Parking Lots to the Curb: Bad news for car owners: “Developers in more U.S. cities are reducing the amount of parking spaces included in new projects as local authorities seek to encourage the use of mass transit and free up space for parks, housing or other uses.”

A Glorified Sidewalk, and the Path to Transform Atlanta: “Could this traffic-clogged Southern city, long derided as the epitome of suburban sprawl, really be discovering its walkable, bike-friendly, density-embracing, streetcar-riding, human-scale soul?”


It is always a pleasure to read my fellow AHBE Lab contributor’s entries. I always learn something new. I am a Silver Lake resident myself, so Gary’s recent post about the Silver Lake Reservoir of course caught my interest. I had no idea that the Reservoir was drained to bypass the drinking water system post 9-11. I also did not know that the plan was to refill the neighborhood’s token reservoir as it once was – this would be in fact no small feat.

I have to disagree with Gary on one point however. The reservoir is something different than a large empty hole. It has become a place of contingency, and that is not necessarily uninteresting.

Of course, there is potential for greatness, but what about the present? Is there a way to transition to the Reservoir’s next stage? How can we act now? The perimeter of the park is alive and shockingly green, extremely well used by residents and visitors alike. Looking beyond the fence, the Reservoir can be quite beautiful even without water, just not accessible.


As Gary points out “The Silver Lake Reservoir is much larger than Echo Park Lake, and urban runoff alone would not be able to maintain the necessary volume for Silver Lake’s capacity”. Seeing the reservoir as less of a construction site and more of a place for experimentation could create a flexible landscape that could start performing now. This kind of experimental landscape could also buy some time for constituency and funding for perhaps a better Silver Lake Reservoir. Could we strategically propagate vegetation now to mitigate storm water, take toxins out of the soil, and provide habitat to urban wildlife?

During a community meeting on June 30th the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power committed once more to refill the iconic body of water. But when? According to CD4 Neighborhood Advocate Adam Miller, LADWP will be providing updates at a meeting to discuss specific options for restoring water to the Silver Lake Reservoir on September 20th. An additional meeting would be held after to discuss improvement plans after the Reservoir is filled. This proposed order – fill now…and then what do we do? – seems endlessly problematic. What can we do now to improve the conditions of the Reservoir and is filling it up just as it was really our best option? See you next Tuesday.

Silver Lake Reservoir Community Meeting Tuesday, September 20 
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. 
John Marshall High School Auditorium
3939 Tracy Street, Los Angeles, CA 90027
For more information, please contact SLNC.

Photo: Gary Lai

Photos: Gary Lai

At the moment the Silver Lake Reservoir is a large empty hole. Located 4 1/2 miles northwest of Downtown Los Angeles, Silver Lake was once a working reservoir of emergency drinking water for the city. The body of water was also the signature feature that helped create one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.

Now it’s empty.

After 9/11 – in order to protect our water infrastructure – new federal standards required all open-air reservoirs to be concrete capped or be disconnected from the water system. At the time, the decision seemed a no-brainer. But of course, the neighborhood wants to keep the lake a lake! So we’re here at an impasse, multiple parties trying to determine the future of a manmade body of water in a time of drought.

The initial proposed project was fairly simple: drain the lake, bypass the drinking water system, and then refill the reservoir. Unfortunately, by the time the project was ready to go in the summer of 2015, Los Angeles and the rest of the state were in the midst of one of the worst droughts in a millennia. Filling the reservoir back up was no longer a simple decision. Is it prudent for us to fill up an urban reservoir with potable water that is not meant as a part of the city’s water supply simply for non-essential use?

Even if we fill up the reservoir once, how would we maintain the level for following years? With more potable water? The Silver Lake Reservoir is too deep to be truly efficient for recreation and its concrete sides does not present a natural lake setting. There have been a few competing proposals to refill the lake; the most notable, one reimagines the 96 acres as a public park. There’s a consensus that the 400 to 800 million gallons of water required to maintain the Silver Lake Reservoir’s water levels annually would be a questionable use of drinkable water as a primary source.

But I still believe Silver Lake can become a great urban park. Echo Park Lake, located nearby down on Glendale Boulevard, offers a proof-of-concept of a reservoir redesigned and repurposed as a sustainable outdoor space. Echo Park Lake was once a dilapidated urban park, but with planning and funding it was reconfigured to treat urban runoff with planted integrated wetlands before entering the manmade lake.

Echo Park picture 3 Echo Park picture 2

All of the proposals for the Silver Lake Reservoir suggest some form of bio-filtration to handle urban runoff. But even so, there’s a problem…a big problem. The Silver Lake Reservoir is much larger than Echo Park Lake, and urban runoff alone would not be able to maintain the necessary volume for Silver Lake’s capacity.

However, the Silver Lake Reservoir might provide an opportunity for Los Angeles  to create an Eco-District for water – or in sustainability parlance, create an area of “Net-Zero Water”. An “Eco-District of Net-Zero Water” is designed to recapture and reuse any rainfall or pumped water brought into a neighborhood (or district).

The organization Silver Lake Forward envisions the Silver Lake Reservoir as a public space celebrating access, native flora and fauna, and conservation. Image via Silver Lake Forward

The organization Silver Lake Forward envisions the Silver Lake Reservoir as a public space celebrating access, native flora and fauna, and conservation. Image via Silver Lake Forward.

This has been particularly difficult to do because most urban neighborhoods do not have the area required to treat water from beginning to end. Silver Lake does not have this problem. As a self-sufficient water district, the neighborhood could use many of the most current technologies to create a great urban recreation area, while underneath and around the lake, a system could be designed to treat water from urban stormwater, reclaimed waste water, recycled water from treatment plants, and any additional runoff water from surrounding residential properties. Clean water from the Silver Lake Reservoir could in turn be used to irrigate expanded recreation facilities around the lake’s perimeter, and perhaps in the future, be polished to fully potable status.

Echo Park picture 1

In the end urban parks provide a great service to the surrounding community. Many Southern California parks use water as their centerpiece feature [see: MacArthur Park and Magic Johnson Park]. But even so, we need to remember these large artificial bodies are filled with potable water that must be maintained, serviced, and refilled. Echo Park Lake proved these bodies of water can be used to do work other than just providing a naturalistic backdrop. With a little imagination, the Silver Lake Reservoir could become more “lake” than “reservoir” for generations to come, and perhaps in time simply be known as Silver Lake.