Silverlake Reservoir is Monumentally Pointless – Aaron Rickel

Silver Lake Reservoir is a grandiose and monumentally pointless waste of space. A pompous, 81 acre, glorified bird bath. A profound tease of off-limits water in the middle of a sun-soaked concrete desert.

Ever thought of going for a dip in the “lake” of Silver Lake? Well, think again. You can’t.

The most frustrating part? The only reason Silver Lake Reservoir isn’t a beautiful recreational community lake is a tangled mess of bureaucratic red tape and a few cranky neighbors.

Silver Lake Reservoir and its little cousin, Ivanhoe Reservoir, were constructed in 1908 as water reserves for Los Angeles. They were designed to hold 3 weeks of emergency water for the city in case the Los Angeles Aqueduct catastrophically failed. Not a bad backup plan for drought and earthquake prone Southern California.

However, in 2006, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) passed new regulations requiring all reservoirs that provide drinking water either be covered, the water treated before distribution, or the reservoir decommissioned entirely. LADWP opted for decommission. In 2008 Silver Lake and Ivanhoe Reservoirs were permanently taken offline.

This means, since 2008, Silver Lake Reservoir has provided a grand total of zero gallons of drinking water to the greater Los Angeles area.

It has never generated a single watt of hydroelectric power.

For over a decade it has sat completely dormant, taking up nearly 40 unusable, inaccessible city blocks of potential space in the middle of Los Angeles. Silver Lake residents have been driving to the Hollywood Community Pool to take a dip during the nine month LA summer instead of walking down the street to an urban lake. Except this guy — but it didn’t go so well for him.

Essentially, wealthy homeowners in Silver Lake keep fighting to maintain their backyard views of a giant unusable concrete pond rather than turn the space into something beneficial, beautiful, and (most importantly) accessible for the entire community.

I reiterate: Silver Lake Reservoir is, deeply and sincerely, pointless.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who thinks so. In May 2018, the LADWP began seeking proposals for the Silver Lake Reservoir Complex Master Plan Project. An excerpt from the description reads:

“The new Master Plan will seek to balance its historic character, its use as a public and community gathering place, its strategic location within the Silver Lake neighborhood, its visual impact, its long term environmental value, its potential for a unique blend of both active and passive recreational spaces, and the potential for this urban lake/water body to become a special City amenity with distinct and balanced characteristics.”

It… actually sounds… super promising?

In February 2019, Hargreaves Associates won the contract for transforming Silver Lake Reservoir into a community space. If you haven’t heard of the firm, you’ve probably heard of — or walked through — their work. Hargreaves is responsible for designing and implementing such icons as Crissy Field in San Francisco, Google’s Charleston East Campus in Mountain View, and the Louisville Waterfront Park.

Definitely promising. This is huge news. Hargreaves has an incredible track record of successfully transforming waterfronts across the country.

On June 27th, Hargreaves held the first of six community meetings to plan the future of the reservoir to great success. Community meetings surrounding the future of Silver Lake Reservoir have historically been contentious, to say the least, but this time neighborhood councils, environmentalists, and recreationalists all agreed to respect one another and debate with civility throughout the process. You can check out Hargreave’s presentation here.

For the time being, however, Silver Lake Reservoir continues to sit meaninglessly in an otherwise hip and happening part of town.

But hopefully not for long.

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