Critics of Aluminum Cover for Elysian Reservoir Hit the Roof

Times Staff Writer

Opponents of a plan to cover the Elysian Reservoir erupted in anger recently when an architectural consultant hired by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said the most responsible alternative was an aluminum roof masked by camouflage paint and a screen of trees.

Doug Campbell of the Santa Monica firm Campbell & Campbell Associates told about 50 community and park advocates Dec. 1 that the alternatives they preferred would either be extremely costly or technically infeasible.

Campbell insisted that alternatives to the roof--such as covering the lake with concrete or letting it dry up for parkland--are still under consideration, but he said an aluminum cover is “the most cost-effective, responsible” option.

After an increasingly hostile series of questions and answers, several in the audience suggested loudly that the project is being forced on the public without justification.


“Would you please go back to the DWP and tell them that you have learned that this whole thing is a bad idea?” asked Jeb Brighouse, president of the Echo Park Tenants and Homeowners Assn.

The DWP is proposing to cover the 85-year-old lake with a 7-acre aluminum roof to protect it from airborne pollutants and toxins caused by exposure to sunlight. The 55-million-gallon reservoir supplies household water to 375,000 residents of downtown and eastern Los Angeles.

More Stringent Standards

The plan is part of the agency’s goal of increasing water quality in its complex delivery system by covering some reservoirs, filtering the water in others and replacing still others with storage tanks.


The DWP contends that the city’s domestic water supply is safe, but that more stringent drinking water standards expected from the federal and state governments could require a reduction in contaminants including cancer-causing chemicals and bacteria.

The agency has begun the project by covering remote reservoirs. Among those are Eagle Rock Reservoir in the uninhabited hills near the Scholl Canyon Landfill, which is now sealed in rubber.

Although Elysian Reservoir is tucked away in a little-seen canyon just west of the Pasadena Freeway, the Citizens’ Committee to Save Elysian Park considers the proposal to roof it an encroachment on the park it is dedicated to protect. Other groups regard the protest over Elysian Reservoir as the key battle over reservoirs being considered for roofing.

The Center for Law in the Public Interest filed suit against the DWP after the agency decided in 1986 to begin the project without an environmental impact report. As a result of the lawsuit, the DWP agreed to conduct an environmental study. A draft is due early next year.


Urged by Councilwoman Gloria Molina, whose 1st District includes the reservoir, the agency also hired Campbell’s firm to investigate whether DWP water quality goals could be met in a more appealing way.

At a meeting with community groups in September, Campbell introduced several ideas for returning the small canyon near downtown Los Angeles to unrestricted recreational use. These included replacing the lake with large storage tanks, covering it with a concrete surface on which tennis courts could be built, building a filtration plant and abandoning the reservoir altogether. Opponents of the aluminum roof showed favor toward the concrete roof and the storage tanks.

On Dec. 1, however, Campbell said those alternatives all had technical or cost flaws. A 30-million-gallon storage tank, he said, would cost $29 million and would reduce the emergency water supply. A concrete roof would cost almost as much and could be susceptible to hairline cracking through which contaminants could reach the water. He also downplayed another popular option--the construction of ornamental planter beds and ponds over the lake--because of cost and maintenance problems experienced with projects like it elsewhere.

Campbell said a fixed roof, costing about $5.3 million, could be made palatable by painting over it in a pattern of natural colors to help it blend in.


“You would look down and not see a reservoir, but something you would not immediately pick out of the trees,” he said.

He also presented maps of a 6- to 8-acre forestation project, at a cost of about $250,000, that could help screen the roof from scenic points in the canyon.

“It is not a perfect solution,” Campbell said. “We believe this is a cost-effective and practical solution.”

The audience overwhelmingly disapproved, suggesting that making no change at all would be more responsible.


Bennett Kayser, president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., suggested that the DWP spend its money instead on a project to filter drinking water in homes.

Carlyle Hall, co-director of the Center for Law in the Public Interest, asked why no effort had been made to estimate the value of park resources at stake.

Equal in Real Cost

Hall contended that calculating the damage to the park that would be caused by an aluminum roof and the gain that would be realized by opening the lake area to recreation would make the two alternatives almost equal in real cost.


Campbell said consideration of land cost was not permitted in his assignment.

When pressed repeatedly to justify the need for the DWP’s billion-dollar water improvement project, Campbell deferred to Thomas Erb, environmental affairs coordinator for the DWP, who is writing the Elysian Reservior environmental report.

Erb would say only that the drinking water in the reservoir is safe but that the roof is needed to keep it safe. Pressed for specific studies supporting that, Erb said that he did not have them but that they would be included in the environmental report.

“You know, you treat us with such contempt and disdain, it is an absolute disgrace,” said Isa-Kae Muksin of the Echo Park Renters and Homeowners Assn. “Shame on you.”


The meeting, the last scheduled by the Campbell group, ended on that note of discord.

Afterward, Sallie Neubauer, president of the Citizens’ Committee to Save Elysian Park, said she fears that the group will have to take the DWP to court again.