The Silver Lake Reservoir Will Be Refilled With Water by 2018

An empty Silver Lake Lake reservoir
An empty Silver Lake Lake reservoir

Silver Lake homeowners, stand down. The Silver Lake Reservoir, now a dusty, desolate void, will be refilled — all the way to the top.

That's what local politicians and Department of Water & Power officials told a rapt audience of about 180 (according to a bored-looking Sheriff's deputy) last night at John Marshall High School. 

The water will begin to flow by May 1, nervous officials promised. They said it would take about a year to fill the 400 million gallon, 40-foot-deep reservoir, meaning it won't be filled until the spring of 2018 (and that's if everything goes smoothly). City Councilman David Ryu said the bottom of the pit would be covered with water by May 30.

The lake was drained last summer, in order for DWP to construct a new pipeline that will transport drinking water to the new underground reservoir. The plan was to refill Silver Lake with drinking water as soon as the pipe was finished (sometime in 2016) — but that plan was made before the state was hit with a massive drought.

Then the DWP started saying it was going to fill the reservoir with recycled water. But that would have taken years (there's only so much recycled water to go around every year), meaning years of that barren bowl-shaped wasteland, taunting homeowners with its ugliness. A group calling itself Silver Lake Now demanded the pit be refilled with potable water, pronto, calling the reservoir "the heart and soul of the 43,000 people and countless wildlife that call Silver Lake their home."

At the same time, others wondered if maybe there was a better use for the reservoir, which covers a sprawling 96 acres — a footprint larger than Disneyland! What about a swimable lake? Or a bigass park? Or a housing project, plus a park, with a few little lakes? Some began to see the land, owned by DWP, as a blank canvas for all their urban utopia dreams.

Well, the mere suggestion of anything other than the Silver Lake Reservoir exactly as it was in 2014 — water, concrete, fence, jogging path — caused a near riot at a public meeting in June.

Jill Cordes, one of the co-founders of Refill Silver Lake Now, says her group has no formal position on any sort of beautification of the reservoir — just as long as Silver Lake is filled — Now.

But with what water? As it turns out, the DWP pulled a rabbit out of its hat and came up with a solution that pleased just about everyone (except the urban utopians, who've been all but cowed into submission by the re-fillers). The department now says it will refill the reservoir with groundwater — water that's sitting below the surface, on its way to the ocean. That will require a $5 million pipe to be built, and it will mean that the lake won't be filled until sometime in 2018.

Other than that, it's the perfect solution. The groundwater isn't being captured right now; it's simply flowing to the Pacific Ocean. 

"This does not affect us in any adverse way," said Marty Adams, DWP's director of water operations. "We're losing the water anyway."

The solution seemed to pacify an audience that was primed to castigate DWP officials for turning their precious lake into a wasteland. 

"The water is going to take longer than we had hoped," Cordes says. "Having said that, they found a different source of water that seems to satisfy the criteria of everyone, which is great for a community that’s become semi-fractured in all of this."

Catherine Geanuracos, who co-founded Silver Lake Forward, which is in favor of park-ifying the reservoir, also was pleased.

"I think it's better if people aren't screaming at each other," Geanuracos said after the meeting. "I hope that people will be able to think in a more comprehensive way. It's such an opportunity."

The DWP will hold another meeting in November to discuss the potential beautification of the reservoir. Taking down the fence and putting in landscaping are expected to be contentious issues. Both councilmembers who were at the meeting — Ryu and Mitch O'Farrell — nervously tiptoed around what they thought the reservoir should look like in the future. 

"It's too premature for someone like me to say, 'I like this, I don't like this,'" Ryu told LA Weekly.

"There is defiantly a constituency around the lake," said O'Farrell to this reporter. "I'm a huge believer in making public spaces more accessible to everyone."

Only State Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who is termed out at the end of the year and who lives within spitting distance of the reservoir (and who's running for sState treasurer), made a bold suggestion.

"There's a possibility for the state to step in and buy the site and turn it into a state park," he told the thinning crowd at the end of the meeting. 

Gasps could be heard throughout the half-empty auditorium. 

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