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Recycled water, groundwater to refill Silver Lake Reservoir

File: This April 9, 2010 photo shows the Department of Water's Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
This April 9, 2010 photo shows the Department of Water's Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles.

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.

At the same time, they and the area’s two city council members avoided the more controversial topic of a possible makeover of the reservoir's shoreline amenities that have become increasingly popular.

Hundreds of residents who packed into the auditorium at Micheltorena Elementary School greeted the announcement, because the yearlong absence of water from the lake during a construction project in the midst of a severe drought had some fearing the DWP would go back on its longstanding promise to refill the reservoir.

The DWP stepped away from its original plan to use drinking water to refill the lake, whose parks and running path are recreational assets in the area. In the midst of the drought, the idea to refill it with water imported from Northern California and the Colorado River just didn’t make sense, said Assistant General Manager Marty Adams. 

He said the most ready and least expensive alternative is to use existing pipelines in the area to carry treated water from the L.A. Glendale Wastewater Treatment Plant to the reservoir. That’s the same source of recycled water that keeps Griffith Park golf courses and nearby cemeteries green. Adams said it would cost a "few million dollars" to add the  plumbing to connect existing (but now disconnected) drinking water pipes with the lake to carry the recycled water.

Captured and treated stormwater runoff and groundwater from a well near the Los Angeles River were also refill options. Another but less likely option would be to use water from the river itself, but the permitting process would be lengthy, Adams said.

Once it's refilled, water in the reservoir would have to be circulated in order to keep it from becoming stagnant.Adams suggested the water be moved from Silver Lake to Echo Park Lake and MacArthur Park Lake. Storm runoff, because it collects pollutants along its journey through the watershed, would need to be treated as well, probably by having a portion of the lake be a shallow wetlands area that functions as a filter.

Adams said the lake level initially might be lower than it was before to enable construction to occur on the shoreline. A second reason the lake level might be lower is to enable the water to circulate more easily, keeping it cleaner. 

The DWP officials speaking Thursday only addressed  how they intended to refill the lake and avoided addressing the variety of plans for more ambitious development around the reservoir. One such plan envisions the creation of a sandy beach. 

The lack of plans for future use frustrated some in the audience. 

“What you don’t have on the table is to solve the future of Silver Lake Reservoir,” said David Ebersol, who moderated the community meeting.

A group called Silver Lake Forward wants the community to reimagine the lake with more public and parklike uses such as piers and boardwalks.  The group Fill Silver Lake Now was more focused on returning the lake to its former status, with a minimum of added development.

Leslie Edmonds, with the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy, said the group received about 800 responses to its survey about the lake, with the most popular response calling for the lake to be refilled. Beyond that, the most popular responses were that residents wanted better access to the lake via walkways and lower or fewer fences. They also wanted to make sure that whatever improvements are added are well-maintained, Edmonds said.

Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs were built in the early 1900s to store drinking water, but federal water quality rules no longer permit such open-air storage. The DWP replaced the storage capacity with a massive covered storage reservoir built near Griffith Park. 

Silver Lake was drained a year ago so that DWP could disconnect it from the drinking water supply. The agency constructed a massive pipeline along the lakebed to carry drinking water from the new below-ground Headworks reservoir to downtown Los Angeles. The construction will finish early in 2017. It will take a few months to construct the pipes and circulation plumbing in the lakebed necessary to refill it, with water expected to begin flowing into the lake in May.

Council members David Ryu, whose district covers the north half of the lake, and Mitch O’Farrell, who has the south end, both spoke to the residents. O’Farrell spoke in favor of a long community process to envision future development around the lake. 

Some in the audience shouted at him when he said some of the first changes would be to open up the south end of the now fenced-off lake and ridding the perimeter of the “tiger stripe” asphalt bank. He quickly revised his statement to stress that all those options would be subject to public discussion before any changes.

Ryu was noncommittal about every option concerning the reservoir, committing only to lengthy public discussions. 

Not all residents welcome the idea of constructing an attraction that could draw more visitors and traffic to an already traffic-crunched area.