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‘A long time coming’: Planning the future of the Silver Lake Reservoir

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Will a new master plan help turn the area around the lake into a larger public space?

Aerial view of Silver Lake Reservoir
A master plan update will help determine the future of the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs.
By Sterling Davis

More than a decade after the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power decided to decommission the Silver Lake Reservoir, local officials are finally set to begin planning for the future of the manmade lake and its surroundings.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Board of Public Works signed off on an agreement between the DWP and the city’s engineering bureau to update a master plan for the Silver Lake Reservoir and its smaller neighbor, the Ivanhoe Reservoir.

The plan was crafted in 2000, long before both bodies of water were removed from LA’s network of water storage facilities. It guided the installation of walking trails around the complex and the opening of the Silver Lake Meadow in 2011.

But a lot has changed in the nearly two decades since the master plan was created. Both reservoirs have been emptied—and refilled—multiple times, and DWP plans for the site have changed (for instance, the utility provider once hoped to use drinking water to keep the reservoirs full; years of drought have complicated that strategy).

“This has been a long time coming,” said board president Kevin James during Friday’s meeting.

In a statement, City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell said that updating the plan would allow members of the public to participate in a “collective vision” for the reservoir complex—one that “will likely include greater access, sustainable conservation practices, and other improvements... born out of input from neighborhood participants.”

In attendance at the meeting were multiple members of Silver Lake Forward, a nonprofit organization that in 2016 unveiled a bold proposal for a 96-acre public park alongside the reservoir designed by landscape architect Mia Lehrer (who also prepared the 2000 master plan).

That proposal included new walkways, landscaping, artificial islands, and direct access to the body of water itself—now isolated from the public by a tall, chain-link fence.

In an open letter addressed in July to Councilmembers O’Farrell and David Ryu, the group stressed that a master plan update should include as much public access as possible to both land and water features of the reservoir complex.

Not all residents of the area are as enthusiastic about expanding public space around the reservoir. At a series of community meetings held while workers diverted pipes at the bottom of the lakebed and the reservoir sat empty, many community members were dismissive of plans for more park space and jeered when officials offered up Echo Park Lake as a model for the reservoir’s future.

Seemingly anticipating fierce debate over proposals for the reservoir, public works boardmember Joel Jacinto told BOE and DWP staffers that “the process of community engagement” would be key in updating the master plan.

Pending approval from the City Council, the update is expected to take about three years to complete, at a cost of nearly $3 million. Aside from developing a new public use framework for the site, the plan will also touch on strategies to keep the large bodies of water full and clean during times of drought.

Silver Lake Reservoir

1850 W Silver Lake Dr, , CA 90039