City OKs $8 Million Stormwater Capture Project

The Silver Lake Reservoir, pictured here in 2013.

SILVER LAKE—The Silver Lake Reservoir’s south dam will open for the first time with a public pathway February 10th, hot on the heels of Los Angeles City Council’s recent approval of $8.13 million for a stormwater capture project that aims to reduce the cost of keeping it and its neighboring Ivanhoe Reservoir full.

The stormwater capture program, headed by the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering (BOE) and funded by the Dept. of Water and Power, will create new storm drains, junction structures, maintenance holes and pumps to divert about 51.9 million gallons of stormwater into the reservoirs from surrounding neighborhoods, according to a BOE spokesperson.

Combined, the two reservoirs lose about 136 million gallons of water to seepage and evaporation every year, according to city data. By capturing stormwater runoff that would otherwise flow into the Pacific Ocean by way of Los Angeles River and other outlets, the city will greatly reduce its need to purchase imported water, which is currently used to maintain water levels.

“It’s such a waste for that water to go rushing into the ocean,” said Anne Marie Johnson co-chair of Silver Lake Neighborhood Council’s governing board. “We might as well utilize it for our reservoirs.”

The state of the iconic reservoirs has been an issue of debate for area residents and community leaders since they were drained in 2008 due to high levels of bromate, a carcinogen caused when chlorine and naturally occurring bromides chemically react to sunlight. Silver Lake and Ivanhoe were drained again in 2015 to allow for new pipeline construction as part of LADWP’s project to remove the reservoirs from the city’s tap water supply.

A recent 2017 bypass pipeline project marked the last phase to disconnect the reservoir complex in Silver Lake from the city’s water supply. With that step out of the way, a so-called “master plan” to open the complex to public recreation and wildlife habitat is currently being developed by the BOE.

“I think the overwhelming majority of residents and stakeholders who have enjoyed the reservoir for all these years are very happy and relieved to finally see the water back in the reservoirs,” said Johnson. “We look forward to the upcoming master plan process and the neighborhood council will be in the forefront, making sure the community is engaged and involved, and transparency will be our main goal.”

Consistent water levels will be critical to the master plan, but LADWP must cut its total purchase of imported water in half by 2025 and source 50% of its water locally by 2035 in order to comply with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s 20-year environmental roadmap called the “Sustainable City pLAn.”

“L.A. is behind the curve in terms of water sustainability,” said Craig Collins, a founding member of the reservoir advocacy group Silver Lake Forward. He said stormwater capture programs like this one also reduce the amount of pollutants that runoff carries to the ocean. “This will replace much of the water that evaporates from the reservoirs so the city doesn’t have to import water just to make it a nice pretty lake for the fancy people that live there.”

Collins said capture projects like the one in Silver Lake are a step toward improving the sustainable water future of Los Angeles. “Every drop we can capture is essential,” said Collins. “We’d love to see more, but we’ll happily take this as a great step in the right direction.”

The $8 million in funding for the project will come out of LADWP’s existing water systems budget and will be transferred to the BOE, which will manage project funds.

“The cost appears to be large when you look at it,” said Rafael Viegas, a DWP spokesperson. “But when you compare it to importing water it’s an attractive cost for the project. It’s a net gain, if you want to think about it that way.”

While the master plan is in development, residents can expect to see short-term improvements at the reservoirs, like new fencing at the dog bark, warning beacons for pedestrian street crossings, newly planted trees and the February dam opening.

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