When wetlands grew like weeds across Echo Park Lake

Bottom rendering depicts Echo Park Lake planted with wetlands. Images from EchoParkLake.org

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.

Related Post:

  • 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.

No comments

  1. I’d be curious to hear from a horticulturalist who knows about the different types of wetland plants/grasses that could be used without fear of them taking over. If we don’t know what kind was used 100 years ago, it’s hard to say if we’ll definitely have the same problem.

  2. thanks again for this bit of history, rory! i’ve been speaking to a neighborhood old-timer who remembers the drainage in the 80’s, and mentioned a whole host of unforseen issues that arose at that time, including new cracks in the sidewalks blocks away from the lake due to the sudden decrease in pressure from the removal of the water. one can only assume that there will be more unforseen issues this time around, despite our past ‘learning’ experiences…

  3. I’m thinking another issue (bigger now than in 1897) might be dealing with trash thrown into the wetlands.

  4. Katherine —

    That’s an excellent question, and as I’m not a Horticulturist, I can’t say for certain. However, the only assurance that the engineers behind the current rehabilitation could give when I asked this question was that:

    A) They would be planted in shelves


    B) They are not the type of wetlands that grow in deep water.

    However, people seemed to be surprised when the water grass started growing in very deep water 100 years ago as well.

    The panel also included a biologist and a landscape architect, and neither one of them chimed in on this question either, which one might expect if the wetlands they were intending to use were not the type that would spread beyond their initial planting.

  5. I know I’ve been telling people all along, and in these forums, that the wetlands were inappropriate for a city park because they would bring an very unpleasant stench — not to mention that in addition they would collect garbage. I understand how a wetlands can help filter the water, but that hardly makes them a pure-smelling or otherwise pleasant panacea. Mother nature doesn’t care how much things stink. Mother nature also is not going to do a full cleanup for the next several decades — but this plan offers nothing else, appears to presume complete cleaning by the wetlands, which is just fantasyland thinking.

  6. What is the maximum depth of the pond? It doesn’t seem very deep in the pictures I have seen.

    What would you rather them do? Aggressive aeration and filtration towers that cost an arm and a leg to build, run, and maintain? Not to mention that active filtration usually looks terrible and doesn’t provide waterfowl habitat. Oh and when it breaks down, as it invariably will, we would be right back to where we are now. Personally, I would like to see some major aeration and maybe some circulation over the wetlands to minimize the buildup of hydrogen sulfide, but I am happy with wetlands. Do we even know if there is going to be standing water in the wetland areas or if it is going to be more boglike to preclude a mosquito issue?

  7. oh good I checked out the website and they are planning on a circulation system. I imagine this would be through the wetland areas to use them as active filtration. Moving water would help prevent anaerobic conditions and thus hydrogen sulfide formation.

  8. I also live on Echo Park Ave., within the restricted parking zone. To say that blocking off one side of the street is an annoyance is an incredible understatement. While the city marks one side of the street as a “no parking zone”, we face additional parking obstacles throughout the week on the side we CAN park on. All the trash bins from the from the apt buildings, usually 6 or 7 per building, are lined up on the street on TUESDAY NIGHT, taking up nearly half of the space the city has alotted us to park in. Trash pick up is Wednesday, street cleaning Thursday. This does not include the overun from events at the church that is within the “no parking zone”, nor the yellow “unloading zone” that no one can yet figure out the reason for its existance (& parking violations patrol will ticket) , or the dumpster that takes up a spot.

    Thus far, there has been ZERO REASON for us to not park on the other side of the street. Not one truck, vehicle, or indication of anything happening. Its bad enough we’ve lost the lake and will endure 2 years of construction noise and stench from the drained lake. To ask residents that can’t find a parking spot on the free parking side to wake up at 5:45 am to go in search of an open parking spot – for 2 YEARS – is a bit much. Personally, I’ve already received a $70 parking citation.

    If they insist on marking a “no parking zone”, why not have it on Bellevue, where there are NO RESIDENTS? Infact, a good portion of Glendale Blvd. has no residents, near Glendale & Bellvue. Why have it in an area where multiple apt complexes are dependent on street parking? OR Why not move the restricted parking time from 6am – 6pm TO 8am -6pm, a time when a good number of folks that live here have left for work?

    Either way you slice it, they need to cut the residents some slack & 2 hours off the “no parking” time is not improbable, nor is moving the no parking zone to an area where less residents live.

  9. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that voting for clean water would close down my local park! I find it a slap in the face to the whole community of Echo Park. What other community has no Park??? I can’t think of one right now. I was told by the locals that the real reason the park was closed down was due to the complaints from the people living around the park, the newbies, they didn’t like homeless, drug using/selling, loteria gambling immagrants so close. They paid thousands of dollars to enjoy the Echo Park vibe. true or not i don’t know. Just wish I could walk or scooter to my local park. For now it will have to be my own personal yard. Feel very blessed to say I live and love Echo Park, even through we are park less, senior center less, and kids have to pay to play. So glad my own kids are grown and gone. I truly feel for those low income parents and there kids. For my good Echo Park deed I have adopted a family to help out during these trying times.

    • EchoParkLady: Echo Park Lake and the surrounding area were in dire need of a cleanup. The park is only closed temporarily. There are several parks located nearby: the 600 acre Elysian Park (across the street), and the beautiful Vista Hermosa park are the first to come to mind. You have no reason to complain.

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