How to refill the empty Silver Lake Reservoir in the midst of drought

This April 9, 2010 photo shows the Department of Water's Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles.
This April 9, 2010 photo shows the Department of Water's Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

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Officials with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have a big challenge on their hands.

They've promised to refill the iconic Silver Lake Reservoir once construction to reroute water distribution pipes is finished — a project that required draining the 400-million-gallon lake. 

Originally, DWP planned to refill it with water imported from Northern California and the Colorado River — water that's normally used to supply tap water in the sprawling city. 

The reservoir is no longer used as storage for drinking water, so that supply would essentially mean using potable water to refill what's become a giant, decorative water feature — of course, one that draws throngs of runners and walkers to its footpath and buoys local property values. 

Given that California is mired in a prolonged drought, DWP officials are rethinking their initial plans. They're now considering refilling the lake with recycled wastewater and stormwater rather than scarce drinking water.

It's a plan that would require the construction of new pumps and pipes at an as-yet unknown cost. Neighbors of the lake are expecting city officials to fill in some details on the DWP's plan to refill the lake when they address a community meeting Thursday evening at Micheltorena Elementary School.

Silverlake — the hip, hilly neighborhood — is named for the reservoir built in the early 1900s to store drinking water. Over its lifespan, the lake has taken on different roles. Originally it was an emergency drinking water supply. It was later put into regular use for potable water as the city grew. It's served as a fishing lake as well, and thousands of trees once grew around its perimeter. It remains a popular park and running destination, declared a city historic and cultural monument in 1989.

Changes in state and federal water quality rules required DWP to stop using the open-air reservoir for drinking water storage years ago.   The plan for the city's drinking water system to bypass the reservoir and keep the lake as a recreational asset was finalized in 2006, when there was no drought.
Last year, the lake was drained and a pipeline was built underneath the lakebed to carry water from the covered Headworks Reservoir in Griffith Park past the lake to the city's distribution pipes.  DWP says it remains committed to refilling  the 400 million-gallon reservoir. But in the midst of a severe drought, it hasn't yet identified a water supply.

Councilman Mitch O'Farrell has challenged the community to look at the empty reservoir as a blank slate to fill with their dreams for a better park.

"What's technically going to be feasible for refilling the reservoir, what kind of water, and when it's going to happen," said Catherine Geanuracos of Silver Lake Forward. That group wants the lake rebuilt with more natural features. The group's website has concept drawings showing fencing and asphalt removed and new boardwalks, piers and restrooms.

Of course, not all residents welcome the idea of constructing an attraction that could draw more visitors and traffic to an already traffic-crunched area.

Public meeting: City Council members David Ryu and Mitch O’Farrell and DWP water operations director Marty Adams are scheduled to address residents at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 30 at Micheltorena Elementary School, 1511 Micheltorena St., in Los Angeles