Echo Park Lake gets doubled dammed

Echo Park Lake’s new dam pictured in February.

Somewhere under Bellevue and Echo Park avenues lies the remains of an old dam that was built in the late 19th Century to create Reservoir No. 4, what we know today as Echo Park Lake.  But as part of an  $85 million clean-up, a second, new dam has been built about half a block north from the original structure.  How did Echo Park Lake end up with two dams? While the old dam was built to hold back water to power a woolen mill,  the new dam or berm is designed to keep state regulators at bay.

When the engineers were planning the current $85 million clean up and renovation of the lake, their work came to the attention of the state’s Division of Safety of Dams. That agency, which monitors dam safety, discovered that a permit had never been filed for the original Echo Park Lake dam, which was probably built well before that agency came into existence.

Map of Reservoir No. 4, now Echo Park Lake.

Map of Reservoir No. 4, now Echo Park Lake.

A city engineer who took a look under Bellevue Avenue said he could see old culverts and pipes that are likely part of the old dam, which he thinks runs south of Bellevue Avenue, perhaps under the Hollywood Freeway. Regardless of the old dam’s location or condition, without a permit on file with state dam regulators,  the City of Los Angeles might have been required to  prove that the old dam met current safety standards or even  make costly repairs to make sure the now underground structure was up to code.

Instead of undertaking such a costly project, which could have busted the lake clean-up budget, engineers figured out that dividing the 14-acre lake into two separate and smaller bodies of water would remove the lake and its dam from the jurisdiction of the state, according to engineers who worked on the lake project. “After studying the alternatives, we concluded this was the best alternative to pursue,” Alfred Mata, a former lake project manager, told The Eastsider in 2008.

Now, that second new dam or berm, which runs from east to west,  will remain below the water line and hidden from view (the lake’s pedal boats, if they ever return, should be able to skim over the top of the dam). In the middle of the structure, a notch can be closed off, allowing either side of the lake to be drained if needed. The  underwater berm will also help keep pressure off the old dam, said one engineer on a recent tour of the lake.

Anyone who wants to catch a peek at the new dam, however, should visit the lake soon.  As the lake is being refilled with water, the new dam, like the old Echo Park Lake dam, will disappear from view.

New dam with water on both sides


  1. dam stoopid. arf.

  2. Anyone know if they’re on schedule with this project? Is it still slated to open this spring?

    • Hb- According to echoparklake.org they are on schedule!

      • remember all the people that complained they would never finish on time?
        haha. plz stand up!

      • I just looked at the echoparklake.org Website. There isn’t anything there decidedly saying whether the project is on schedule now. But I did look up the latest meeting minutes posted, of a meeting from early December, and one speaker said things were still on schedule at that time for completion in spring. It was noted that that was due to a lot of long hours and Saturday work (I have to expect that have bloated the expense of this project).

  3. Great article. I really hope you can’t see the dam berm and I also hope the paddle boats return.

  4. Interesting!

  5. Predicting: when lake is filled wack teens attempt across-lake-crossing on submerged dam.

    Really? True. In Sixties somebody drowned trying to walk on the submerged one on NE end.

  6. Why couldn’t a new dam simply have been built as the south edge of the lake where they were putting in a concrete wall anyway? Wouldn’t that make a hell of a lot of sense? This is the kind of challenge to this plan that could have been brought if public input were sought.

    I also don’t understand from this article how a dam that has not been at the water and has not been in any kind of use for many, many, many decades, at least most of a century, is even any longer at all related to the lake itself and thus is a regulatory issue. It no longer has anything to do with the lake because it is no longer at the lake and has not been in use, and is beyond where the current lake wall already dams the lake.

    Without further explanation, why does this issue sound like something that some foolish bureaucrat raised and no one used any intelligence to consider and dispute? Just because some clown walks in and says hey, you have to fix this dam no one even knew existed for the past maybe 70 or more years doesn’t mean you have to fix this dam.

  7. Beuaocracy at its best!!!

  8. ” The underwater berm will also help keep pressure off the old dam, said one engineer on a recent tour of the lake.” What kind of engineer said that??? The pressure on a dam is determined by the depth of the water column behind it(head), not the length of the lake. Assuming the water level is the same on both sides of the dam in the middle, the central dam has no effect on the pressure on the south end. Actually, the south end, if I recall correctly, is the deeper end, so the maximum pressure is created there, dam or no dam.

  9. Robert A. Rouge`

    What the City Engineers should have pointed out was – Assuming that the original Dam (Cement) is located on the North side of the SR-101 Hollywood Fwy., the distance between it and the South end of the lake must be at least 200 Feet.

    That would mean, a 200 Feet thick natural earthen damn, with Bellevue St. on top of it.

    That my friends, is my damned argument.

    (Former resident @ 700 N. Bonnie Brae.)

  10. All the technical mumbo-jumbo justifying the new concrete berm is an obnoxious flavor of kool-ade L.A. City bureau-cronies are forcing down the taxpayer’s throats.

    The unspoken obvious reason for building a berm which divides the lake into 2 separate bodies of water is staring us in the face.

    The concrete berm was constructed to divide the lake into 2 separate bodies of water, that’s why.

    Because if the paddle boats ever come back, they will not be able to glide over the berm. The paddle boats will have their range limited to only one side of Echo Park Lake.

    The paddle boats are the minor issue. A concrete berm effectively positions Echo Park Lake as the future target of an L.A. City crony-council land grab. The community and the Echo Park supporters would not have tolerated such apostacy at this juncture in history.

    It will take serious grassroots divide-and-conquer politics to weaken the opponents of any plan that reduces Echo Park Lake surface area by 50%.

    Whenever the day arrives that the political landscape will tolerate exchanging half of the lake for some other thing(s), the lake itself will be ready.

    The first phase of that project will become a study in urgency and action. Drain half of the lake, grade and pour foundation in 7 days or less.

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