Celebrating the past and looking to the future of the Silver Lake reservoirs

Photo by Matt Sanderson

City proclamation being read at anniversary ceremony | Photo by Matt Sanderson


SILVER LAKE — The 110th anniversary of the neighborhood’s landmark reservoirs was celebrated this weekend with speeches, tours and artwork as officials prepare to disconnect the pair of reservoirs from the city’s water supply and plan for their future.

Saturday’s celebration came as the Department of Water and Power prepares to temporarily drain the Silver Lake and smaller Ivanhoe reservoir next year as part of a massive water-quality improvement project. Once the project is completed, the reservoirs will have been taken off-line from the city’s water system and refilled with non-potable water, setting into motion the process of deciding what’s next for this iconic property.

“One hundreds and ten years ago, L.A. was in a crisis and [city leaders] took bold acts to make these reservoirs happen,” said Craig Collins, president of the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the reservoirs and surrounding open space.

The city purchased the property for what is now called the Silver Lake Reservoirs Complex in 1904, according to the Department of Water and Power. In 1906, the Ivanhoe Reservoir on the north end of the property went into service followed by the Silver Lake Reservoir a year later.

Silver Lake was initially used for irrigation until being converted to drinking water storage in 1920. With a surface area of about 77 acres, it has a capacity of 795 million gallons, according to LADWP. Silver Lake used to supply drinking water to an area from approximately Western Avenue to downtown and south of Third Street. Ivanhoe Reservoir still supplies the area.

“It became the backbone of what the city needed to grow,” said Congressman Adam Schiff of the reservoir complex. “What a history we’re standing in. It’s breathtaking, the parks that have taken shape.”

But that breathtaking vista and landscape will start to look very different next year when the water will be drained to build a bypass water pipeline on the bed of the reservoirs and under West Silver Lake Drive.

LADWP has promised to keep the heavily used walking path around the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs open during construction by creating a detour onto reservoir property. All construction vehicles are anticipated to be housed in a staging area created in the basin of the reservoir as opposed to a location near a nursery school on the north end of the property as previously planned.

“It’s events like this to help provide the context going forward so we don’t keep ideas in a vacuum,” said Mitch O’Farrell, who represents Council District 13  He said the conservancy will lead  talks about the future of the reservoirs, and the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council has formed a subcommittee to assess the master plan.

Short-term plans that are being discussed, according to Collins of the conservancy, include the creation of the Ivanhoe Esplanade, one of the many ideas, including a public swimming complex, that have been floated as future uses . Also, Collins said there are plans to extend the walking  path across the south dam and tear out concrete to provide a wetlands demonstration to see what can be done.

Long-term ideas includes capturing storm water from the local watershed, using recycled water and linking  the reservoirs to the L.A. River.

Also on Saturday:

  • The conservancy unveiled a signage project that features an exhibit of the reservoirs’ history at the corner of Tesla and West Silver Lake Drive.
  • Colorful bird designs hung from metal fence poles near the signage project. Earlier this month, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council approved a $2,000 funding request to support the River of Wings community art installation – approximately 51 bird designs – along the Silver Lake Reservoir, to coincide with the 110th anniversary.
  • City Councilman Tom LaBonge, District 4 said the faucet for one of two 55-million gallon water tanks at Headworks Reservoir, which will replace the Silver Lake reservoirs, was turned on Dec. 3 as part of the $27 million bypass pipeline project, according to. The project is anticipated for completion in 2017.
Silver Lake reservoirs - then and now | Matt Sanderson

Silver Lake reservoirs – then and now | Matt Sanderson

A new water pipeline will be built on the bed of the reservoirs | LADWP

A new water pipeline will be built on the bed of the reservoirs | LADWP

New interpretative signs were unveiled on Saturday  | Matt Sanderson

New interpretative signs were unveiled on Saturday | Matt Sanderson

Matt Sanderson has been a journalist, photographer and digital media producer for nearly eight years. A native of Rhode Island, he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of New Hampshire and moved to Los Angeles in 2012 through a job transfer with Patch.com/AOL.

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