By Rory Mitchell
The current plan for the rehabilitation of Echo Park Lake calls for the introduction of wetlands, water grass that should help to purify the water. Approximately one-fourth of the lake’s surface will be given over to wetlands. At a recent public meeting about the lake rehab, the question was asked as to how the city intended to stop the wetlands from taking over the entirety of the lake. A representative for the project suggested that the wetlands would be planted in shelves, which would prevent them from spreading, and additionally, that these wetlands were not the type to grow in deep water.
The history of Echo Park Lake, however, suggests otherwise. In fact, the wetlands that are now proposed as the solution were once considered the problem.
One the very first complaints of unsanitary conditions in Echo Park Lake in 1897 was about the “the accumulation of decaying weeds and grass at the upper end of the lake.” The City Council urged the Parks department to remedy the situation and “prevent the accumulation of foul smelling water.”
A letter from a local improvement association in July of 1914 complained of the “considerable difficulty in rowing a boat owing to the dense growth of grass in the lake.” A letter from William Daze, the proprietor of the boat house, described the extent of the invasion:
The water grass in the lake at Echo Park is now on the surface of the water almost directly opposite the boathouse. From there to… the North end of the lake it is very bad and gaining headway rapidly. It has also taken a firm foothold in the channel around the island and will have that blocked in a very short time.
His only solution was increasing the stock of grass-eating carp.
The water grass problem did not improve and by 1917, the Parks Commission put an end to fishing in the lake so that the carp population would not be reduced any further. Still, the very next year, William Daze reported “the grass is getting a big start and is showing up even in very deep water.”
In 1919, the lake was emptied for cleaning. This actually exacerbated the water grass problem. William Daze explained that “when the lake was emptied this Spring most of the carp went out with the water thus taking out the only agent combating the growth of the weed. Consequently the grass is already making its appearance in the shallow water and by July will cover the entire northern section of the lake unless measures are taken to combat its activities.”
The resolution to the historical problem of the wetlands in Echo Park Lake has been lost to us but if our new, modern wetlands are not implemented properly, we might find ourselves in the same situation we did a century ago.
- Echo Park Lake prepares to go down the drain yet again. The Eastsider
The recent closure of Echo Park Lake for an upcoming $65 million clean up prompted The Eastsider to ask writer and historical consultant Rory Mitchell to find out what happened when the lake was emptied on previous occasions. After diving into the historic archives of the Los Angeles Times and the City of Los Angeles, Mitchell came back not only with stories of previous improvement projects but tales of the social life, animals, dangers and even smells of Echo Park Lake past. Look for more Echo Park Lake stories in coming days.