Drought no more: Water flows back into the Silver Lake Reservoir complex

Stephanie Bartron, right, and her two children, Dashiell, left, and Marlowe watch as water flows int
A family watches as water flows into the Silver Lake Reservoir complex. Officials on Tuesday began the process of refilling the 96-acre Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

After two years of sitting empty, Silver Lake’s namesake and signature icon is being refilled.

City officials cranked open the tower valves to begin refilling the Silver Lake Reservoir complex on Tuesday, nearly a year ahead of schedule. The 96-acre reservoir is expected to be fully refilled by the middle of June. Officials previously said refilling would begin in May and take about one year. Now water is expected to reach the Silver Lake Reservoir’s historic level of 440 feet above sea level within two months.

Water gushed into the smaller Ivanhoe Reservoir on Tuesday, where it is expected to fill the space and then spill over into the larger, adjacent Silver Lake Reservoir within about two weeks, city officials said. The early start date is due to months of powerful winter storms that soaked California and caused record snowpack levels in the Eastern Sierra.

“After years of drought, we finally had above average precipitation across California. As a result, the Sierra snowpack is over 200% of normal,” said L.A. City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes part of the reservoir. “As the snow melts, the over-abundance of water will come our way via the aqueduct.”


Since it was drained, the reservoir area has been criticized as an eyesore in Los Angeles.
Since it was drained, the reservoir area has been criticized as an eyesore in Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The Silver Lake Reservoir — the scenic centerpiece of the hilly neighborhood — was disconnected from the city’s drinking-water system in December 2013.

The reservoir once stored drinking water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and groundwater sources. But the treated water was exposed to contamination from surface runoff, pollution from animals and people, and a sunlight-triggered reaction that created a carcinogen.

The reservoir was drained in 2015 as part of a project by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to build a 4,600-foot bypass pipeline connecting a new underground reservoir north of Griffith Park to the city’s water distribution system. The new reservoir had to be built after federal regulations went into effect mandating that all drinking-water supplies be stored underground to avoid contamination.


The lost drinking-water storage was replaced by the new underground reservoir, called Headworks.

An aerial view of Silver Lake Reservoir with the smaller Ivanhoe Reservoir in the foreground.
An aerial view of Silver Lake Reservoir with the smaller Ivanhoe Reservoir in the foreground.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Draining and refilling the reservoir sparked a bigger battle over the future of the landmark. Once a community jewel that drew mostly locals, Silver Lake has become a destination with an international following, its popularity rising along with the hipness of the surrounding community.

The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council is “thrilled” that the reservoir is being refilled, said the council’s co-chair, Anne-Marie Johnson. Johnson, a second-generation Silver Lake resident, said she is “more than excited” that the landmark will no longer be an eyesore.

“I am grateful to Mother Nature for providing us an abundance of snow,” she said. “I don’t take that for granted.”

Community members are now debating possible development around the reservoir, which is part of a 127-acre complex that includes a recreation center, open land and the Ivanhoe Reservoir. The area is a popular destination for joggers.

Some want only to refill the reservoir, while others are open to expanded recreation opportunities.

Among the improvements that some residents are hoping for is the opening of a path along the southern part of the reservoir. Currently, the path ends and pedestrians have to walk around a recreation center before returning to the path closer to the water.


Johnson believes the reservoir area should be a wildlife sanctuary.

“I’m not an advocate of turning it into Echo Park,” she said. “I’m an advocate of nourishing it and turning it into an oasis.”

A larger community planning process is underway to solicit input about the reservoir’s future.

Jill Cordes, co-founder of the community group Refill Silver Lake Now, acknowledged that there will be changes in the neighborhood in the future — she’s just glad that the reservoir will be filled while the planning process moves forward.

Cordes said there should be room for both visions, something that takes parts of the wildlife sanctuary plan and new recreation opportunities into account.

“There’s all kinds of ideas flowing out there,” she said. “You can have the best of both worlds if we can work together.”

For more California news follow me on Twitter: @sarahparvini



April 27, 2:20 p.m.: This article was updated with quotes from Silver Lake residents.

This article was originally published April 26 at 10:25 a.m.

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