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The Silver Lake Reservoir is turning green and smells weird, but don't freak out

The Silver Lake Reservoir is looking kind of green these days.
The Silver Lake Reservoir is looking kind of green these days.
Julia Paskin/KPCC

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Los Angeles East-siders have noticed the water in the Silver Lake Reservoir is looking a little more green than before. 

The reservoir doesn't actually provide drinking water anymore. It's been sequestered from the water system for years.

Still, news reports quoted residents alarmed by the color, and who said they noticed a smell coming from the water.

Silver Lake residents on the reservoir's greenish hue

On our visit to the reservoir, discerning eyes did register a change. People we spoke to described the water as "aqua," "blue-green," and "atypical." But the tone was less alarmist, and more in keeping with the simple appreciation of the natural landscape.

Others didn't even notice.

Most who did were not concerned.

"This is Silver Lake so I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are overreacting," said Danielle, a local resident who declined to share her last name. "But I think that its normal for bodies of water to change color."

The wildlife also appeared to take the change in stride. 

Silver Lake Reservoir ducks enjoying the now slightly greener water.
Silver Lake Reservoir ducks enjoying the now slightly greener water.
Julia Paskin/KPCC

So, should we freak out?

In a word: no.

“Change in color is to be expected as we go through the seasons," said Jonathan Leung, Assistant Director of Water Quality for LA's Department of Water and Power.

"We’re getting a lot more sunlight this spring and summer and so nutrients that are in the water will start to form into other types of wildlife including algae. And ultimately, there will be aquatic wildlife, grazers and plankton that form, and then those will die off in the fall and winter.”

But don't panic when you hear about algae. That’s not to be confused with the toxic algae bloom that can be harmful to an ecosystem. Leung says there’s nothing dangerous with this run-of-the-mill algae growth.

The notable difference in color has more to do with the water finding its balance after the reservoir was drained in 2015. “I think what we’re seeing right now is a contrast between when we recently refilled the water with distribution-system-water and it’s kind of returning to its natural state now,” said Leung.

DWP typically tests the reservoir every week or two, but they’ve done so four times in the last week, just to quell concerns. 

But what happens if toxic algae does appear? 

DWP has a handful of emergency procedures if dangers do befall the Reservoir, ranging from earthquakes to toxins. “Mother Nature really takes care of it pretty well," said Leung. "But if for some reason we need to intervene, we can do some type of chemical treatment such as chlorine or other mechanisms."

Maintaining a still body of water will demand some structural updates in the long run though. "We are going to build a system that if there is some type of oddity or intervention required, we will have better capability with some infrastructure to do that," said Leung. 

So in Silver Lake, at least for the time being, it appears you can still enjoy scenic walks with the dog - green water and all.