A NEW VISION FOR THE SILVER LAKE RESERVOIRS
By Craig Collins, SLF Board Member
When the gates atop the Silver Lake Reservoir dam were opened in 2018, the curtains were thrown wide on one of Los Angeles’ great crown jewels. For the first time in decades, we saw this stunning scenic treasure without its chain-link barrier. Children sat and stared motionless at the spectacle before them, nestled between the hills of Silver Lake against the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains’ snow-capped peaks. Such is the power of water over our senses, as we encounter its life-giving beauty.
That moment opened the opportunity before us, as we consider how to best repurpose Silver Lake, now that it no longer provides water to the City. After a century of service, it has been retired, to meet water quality standards. We are fortunate that a Master Planning process is underway to design how it can achieve its new potential.
It is ours to have and to hold — for wildlife, for healthy enjoyment, and most important, a sustainable water future. It is an opportunity and a challenge that may not be repeated in our lifetimes to make this a world-class asset the City needs and deserves.
THE VILLAGE GREEN: CONNECTING PEOPLE AND PLACES
We are Silver Lake Forward, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Silver Lake build its best future. We live in the neighborhood and enjoy the many benefits it offers, and we know it can be so much more.
Guided by the principles of Access, Beauty and Conservation, we work to activate neighbors and the public agencies that steward the Reservoir to embrace a comprehensive vision. We see Silver Lake as the village green that connects neighborhoods, with public space offering walkable enjoyment, safe people-friendly streets, features for kids that provide education and recreation, enhanced wildlife habitat in a vibrant ecosystem, and critical water conservation to create a new water source for the City.
BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE WATER FUTURE
Water is key. We have an incredible imperative for Silver Lake to help the City with its water needs in our era of climate crisis. Situated at the divide between the Los Angeles River and Ballona Creek watersheds, it can provide cleansing of stormwater that’s now wasted. Already, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is building a system to contain local storm water that now flows to the Pacific Ocean, to help maintain the Reservoir’s water level.
Much more can be created. We can capture excess recycled water from treatment plants and provide replenishment downstream to Echo Park and McArthur Park Lakes, to conserve precious domestic water. The Reservoir can even help manage and improve water flows in the LA River. All this is possible due to an extensive network of legacy pipelines that can be repurposed at minimal cost and disruption.
A VIBRANT ECOSYSTEM FOR WILDLIFE AND PEOPLE
With new water sources and a system for flow into the Reservoir, we can create wildlife habitat and a robust ecosystem, by converting its eyesore paved banks into vital terraced wetlands and floating islands that provide cleansing and storage of recycled and stormwater, while creating an attractive natural landscape.
Quite simply, if you want wildlife enhancement at the Reservoir, you want wetlands. Wetlands provide a robust environment for Silver Lake’s wildlife community, offering a home for many species, beyond the beloved Great Blue Herons that fly daily from feeding at the Los Angeles River to their nesting sites atop the Reservoir's tall trees. Wetlands provide a natural food source, while the infrastructure and pollutant-eating plants cleanse water, making it available for other uses.
A HEALTHY AND LIVABLE CITY
Then there’s the future for our neighbors and surrounding communities. Already Silver Lake offers happy healthy walking and relaxation, thanks to the Silver Lake Meadow and the walking path that surrounds the Reservoir. We now enjoy new access at both the smaller Ivanhoe Reservoir and the South Dam.
But there’s so much more to be achieved. The Master Plan process offers vision for many possible solutions, with areas now unaccessible opened for even greater spectacular views, educational programs and enjoyment by all ages. What form will those take? That’s for the Master Plan’s community engagement and professional guidance to determine.
Silver Lake Forward sees this opportunity as the core of a larger vitalized community, with safe streets for walking, biking, and connectivity to schools, shops, homes, the Los Angeles River, and nearby communities from Atwater to Echo Park, Los Feliz to Elysian Valley. This is the best and perhaps only chance we’ll have to create a sustainable, healthy future in and around Silver Lake that we all deserve.
A STEADY APPROACH TO SUCCESSFUL DESIGN
We rely on facts, data and science to guide us and to step away from fear. The key is to build a comprehensive plan that addresses all needs and unites them into a coherent whole. We know the challenge may seem ambitious. Threading the needle of diverse interests is never easy. Many projects were met with controversy. Some were abandoned or compromised, but we must look to those that were achieved for the betterment of us all. These success stories were completed thanks to the steadfastness and vision of stakeholders and leaders, from City agencies and elected officials, to dedicated and talented professionals and the unwavering support of community members.
The costs of needed improvements may sometimes appear daunting. But the imperative to create a resilient water future can be combined with the public and environmental benefits of wetlands, wildlife and a culture that promotes safe walkable neighborhoods. Silver Lake Forward is committed to embracing access, beauty and conservation, in synergy with other benefits that make that greater good.
MAKING IT ALL HAPPEN
How can these visions be achieved, once a plan is created? The good news is that the property is already public, since the LADWP will continue to own the Reservoir’s over 100 acres while maintaining essential operations. Plus, there’s no toxic waste to be removed, like some sites along the LA River now being converted into public space. That drastically cuts costs of new features for walking, educational or recreational opportunities. The new Silver Lake will be managed by another public agency or a non-profit alliance.
Water and its benefits open the door to a successful comprehensive project. Any improvement that provides for a more resilient water future, with safe and healthy community amenities and wildlife enhancement, can attract funding sources to achieve the best outcome. Our challenge is to avoid piecemeal solutions that leave everyone unsatisfied. It’s not often that we have a chance to look at an opportunity with fresh eyes, to engage public will and the needed resources to create what we truly deserve and need for the environment and our community. Silver Lake Reservoir offers both incredible potential and the wherewithal to make it happen.
We know this approach builds public will, with funding sources that a shortsighted view would not achieve. And we have learned from this history one thing above all others: When we create public space, we transform people’s lives.