The new underwater landscape taking shape at Echo Park Lake

By Judy Raskin

Natural bodies of water have things in them, like stones and gravel, kelp, fallen trees, and greenery of one kind or another. But Echo Park Lake is a man-made lake, which means the designers who worked on rebuilding this urban body of water looked for ways to imitate nature for the benefit of fish, birds, and, let’s not forget human beings, that will enjoy it.

The lake is just a big hole in the ground now, with huge construction machines pushing dirt this way and that. The lake bed has to be lined to keep the water from seeping into the ground. What would that look like, I wondered? My vision of a massive enamel bathtub was outlandish, I admit. How would the fish survive without places to hide or spawn? How would the wading and diving birds get into the water to feed on the fish?

I called Katherine Clark of the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering and Brian Young at the California Department of Fish and Game for some answers.

Clark said that “the lake liner is a 12-inch thick layer of bentonite-enhanced clay. The soil underlying the lake is for the most part clay, which means that water does not infiltrate easily through it. We’re taking advantage of this fact by using the existing low-permeability soil and mixing it with bentonite. The bentonite will expand as it comes in contact with the water, creating a nearly impermeable layer.”

The lake will have variable depths, she added. “In the lotus bed area, the water level will be between 12 and 18 inches. The wetland areas will range from 3 to 5 feet in depth. At the south end, the deepest part will be about 8 feet.”

If you go down to the lake now, while the workers are doing the job, you’ll notice how they are creating these depth zones, which will be unseen once the lake is filled with water. The perimeter of lake is mostly lined with what appears to be river stone (“rip-rap slopes”), and similar stones line elevated areas within the lake bed. The northeast corner of the lake (Echo Park Avenue at Park Avenue) has a good view of this. Vegetation will be added at a later time.

Another major element of the lake that will be mostly hidden by water is a 12-inch thick wall made with 4,000-cubic yards of concrete and reinforced with steel rebar. It  follows the contours of the lake, and, with the exception of a few breaks near the boathouse and bridge, will completely encircle the body of water.

Fish will be able to take shelter amid the flexible limbs of more than 80 tree and shrub-shaped “fish attractors” that will serve as an underwater habitat. As for birds, they will be able to enter the lake at several points, either through the vegetated and rip-rap slopes around the lake, including entirely around the island, a small section along the east side of the lake and around the peninsula.

The lake will be partially refilled as early as this winter.  The contractor needs some water in the lake in order to begin planting the lotus and other wetland plants.  Construction and full refilling is expected be complete by spring 2013.

Judy Raskin in an Echo Park resident involved in bird and wildlife issues.


  1. We still need spawning beds. There once were raised beds in place (underwater) that bass used (and protected as eggs matured).

    And structure — structure in natural lakes are rocks, outcroppings thereof, stumps, or added structure, bunches of discarded Christmas trees, contruction waste.

  2. …and reintroduction of warmwater panfish species famously catchable by children: bluegills, crappie, sunfish.

  3. Echo Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in LA. I visited Echo Park many times in the 60’s and 70’s when my mom was hospitalized at the Queen of Angels Hospital. Now I frequent the area at least twice a month driving down from Big Bear to eat at LA’s best restaurant in Echo Park-TAIX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Can’t wait to visit when the renovation is completed.

  4. Wow, only 8 feet deep at it’s deepest? That is going to heat up fast. Please tell me the DFG isn’t going to have trout releases.

  5. Just to be clear: The lotus we are supplying to the rehabilitation of Echo Park Lake, is not just the same species of lotus that was there originally. It is the exact lotus that was there originally. It was cultivated from a piece of the lotus, that I took from the lake in 2005, during the lotus festival. The piece I took was very close to the edge of the lake and was a very small growing tip that I could reach without getting into the lake. The piece grew into a population that is now ready for introduction into the lake in February, 2013. The lotus will bloom in the year 2013 if it is maintained correctly. It will cover a substantial area by the year 2014, at which time the lotus should be close to what it was before it started its decline.

  6. To everyone talking about restoring the black bass fishery…I talked to Bryan Young about this and the plans are to re-establish bluegill and largemouth bass eventually. After a period of water quality assurance testing, they will start stocking catfish and trout on a put-and-take basis. Black bass stocking will follow some years later.

  7. I have attended many propostion O /Echo Park Lake meetings and brought up the question about Echo Park Lake fisherie and what propostion O will be doing to return Echo park Lake back to one of the best warm water fisherie around. You must keep in mind that these ” honey hole trees” will only provide cover for some fish. It will not help in the spawning for our fish. Our bass need shallow water and a good gravel bottom to have a secessful spawn every year. I also brought up the same point that SKR said about the lake being 8 feet deep and that the water will warm up fast and my even kill our stocked Rainbow trout. It will also be a big problem for the people around the lake in the summer now that the lake is 8 feet deep when it warms up the alge bloom will be bad and smelly. I also recived a call for Brian Young of the California Department of Fish and game the news did not sound so promissing about our fisherie. He said it might take up to two years till the department can restock any fish. The will also need to run test before any fish is stocked in our lake. I hope that Propostion O / Echo PAr lake managment team understands how important our warm water fisherie is at echo park. It once Raised trophy size game fish and was planted with both trout and catfish for our community. Echo Park lakes fisheries is important to our community it gives our youth a place to experiance Recreational sport fishing close to home. I also hope that all of you that have questions about our fish and wildlife attend the next propostion O meeting.

  8. As slow as these things go, so the contractors can get more money out of the project, the lake may not be finished till 2014-15 or beyond. All the other comments are about the fish only. What about the ducks and geese that lived at the lake before it was gutted??? Where are they now????? The Canada Geese that lived at the lake nested on the island and return year after year to nest in the same place. Did they nest there this year, will they be able to nest there this coming spring???? The other unfortunate thing about this project and the majority that the city does is that once it is complete it will not be long before it falls into disrepair because the large number of park goers will not care that huge sums of money have been spent to redo the lake and will not have any trouble throwing their trash, shopping carts and other items into the lake, doing graffitti, etc. There are a few activist who worked to get the city to do this project, many of them with financial interest in the project, but the majority of residents unfortunately just don’t care. Echo Park Lake was redone when Jackie Goldberg was in office, not that many years ago, Hollenbeck Park Lake was redone late ninties and is as big a mess now as it was before they drained it and did all the great and wonderous things with it.

    • @tt6737

      I have brought up many questions at proposition O meeting about fish and wildlife. Just from what I have seen they did not do a good job with any of the fish and wildlife. I asked about our ducks both domestic and wild, they relocated them to mc arthur park lake. There is a big problem with this , they never quarantined them to make sure none of them had anything that could be passed on to other wildlife. They put all of the states wildlife at risk by just putting them at another lake.

      I hope everybody remembers maria now Mario the duck when he was take from Echo Park Lake to the LA zoo they quarantine him for 60 days so they could check him out to make sure he was not a threat to the other animals. The turtles is another problem Pro O had said all turtles where removed but I found two holding ponds with about 15 turtles in each one. There ponds where in very bad conditions. The water was dirty and it looked like nobody had been there for a long time. There were two dead turtles that look like they had been dead for over a week and I have pictures of that. I asked myself if any body was taking care of them how where those turtles there for so long and there should of been somebody there to feed them and clean up.

      Another question that i brought up was how this proposition O project put the health and safety of our community and public at risk. You can read it on the EIR, Echo park lake had lead and other harmful contaminants in the sediment at the bottom of the lake it is what this whole project was about. Everybody that live’s close to echo park lake knows every time they wake up and go to there car they are seeing all the dust on there cars coming from the project site keep in mind that dust is coming from Echo Park Lake.

      I was worried about all the children that live in Echo Park and what lead can do to the children in the long run. There are many school close to Echo Park Lake like Logan elementary that have a lot of children. Proposition O has never answered my concerns on fish, wildlife, health and safety of our community we are just not important to them. I have always ended my comment with You all have to attend the next proposition O and voice your concerns. You can not let these so called community wildlife activists speak for you. After working close with the department of fish and game on echo park lakes fisheries and wildlife I cant see how these “activists” say they protect wildlife in echo park can let all these huge problems go on. I hope to see you all at the next meeting.

    • We have brought up that point many times about the maintanace of the project long after it was finished and they just stay quiet. you have to remember that its job security for them. give it another 10 to 15 years and they will come up with the excuse that an unforseen problem occured and we have to redo the lake again.

      About the birds well lets just say they dont care about the birds if they didnt care about the health and safety of the community right? as a resident of this wonderful community for 20 years I am appauled at the comments made that the project is going smoothly. they must be blind but those who can actually see like myself I nod my head every time I drive by that site.

      This site is not worth the health risk that some people may succumb to and I know They aint gonna pay for the hospital bills if they get sick from this site.

  9. Vince makes points. Again. First I’ve heard of ‘two years before stocking’ and am surprised and puzzled but mostly disappointed. And 8′ is shallower than what I’ve heard, which was ’10 feet in places’ if I remember correctly from the (last) meeting I attended. Devil is obviously in the details in this project.

    We have to keep on this — the contractors, planners and others are obviously not on the same page — and some of their information not only doesn’t jibe but bodes badly for the future of the lake’s recreational and general use opps.

    • They have to make sure the water quality is sufficient to grow food for human consumption before they can restart the fishery. They have to ensure nothing leaches from the construction materials, etc. etc.

      • That’s fine and dandy, and reminds me that EP Lake has always received runoff from surrounding streets and everything in and on them, from trash to toxins.

        If we are talking ‘water quality,’ much more than construction materials will affect the refurb’d lake.

        Hope someone is on watch who’s on the project team.

  10. *Adding — yes, the urban lakes get trashed, EP Lake in the past received horrible street runoff, shopping carts, park benches and trash cans, palm fronds, toilets, car batteries, weapons, uncountable bottles and cans and whatever detritus of the city found the lower-than-street-level lake area.

    Yet there was abundant aquatic and avian life. Sure, lotus bed eventually succumbed to (likely) a few killing ingredients, but I am on the record right here and now to help keep the future lake clean. Will gladly drop by with rake and long bamboo pole to fish out trash on vol basis, by self or with any locals — new or old, we’re all stakeholders people — to maintain her.

    Think EP Lake’s a ‘her.’ Maybe because of the Lady.

  11. I hope that all Echo Park community residents take it seriously when I have said it countless times to attend your propostion O meetings. There are many more issues going on than I have mention in my comments. Please keep in mind that propostion O is not meeting all it’s original objectives that where stated at meetings and on there website (please check it out for yourself http://www.lapropo.org/sitefiles/EchoParkLake/intro.htm). One of them was Recreation Echo Park lake well know for its recreational sport fishing. Fishing has been part of our community since the lake has had waterin it. It’s in echo park lake history and in the minds and hearts of all Echo Park who loved fishing. With this if propostion O is really here to help improve our lake bring back our fisherie to raise trophy fish and a healthy enviorment for our wildlife. I wont settle for anything less this project has cost us tax payers $86 MILLION I am sure there is some money left to help our fish and wildlife.

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