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.
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