With the draining of the reservoir, Silver Lake has lost the man-made landmark for which it was named. Despite the city’s efforts to cover the water with “shade balls,” new federal regulations require that all drinking water be stored underground to avoid contamination. Residents have made it clear that they want their lake back, but the way that the restoration should be carried out is a topic of heated debate. Some simply want the hole filled with water as soon as possible, while others want to transform the area into a green space that’s more sustainable and more useful to the public.

Shade balls in a Los Angeles reservoir / photo by Junkyardsparkle / CC0

Three advocacy groups voice the neighborhood’s varied concerns: Silver Lake Forward, Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy, and Refill Silver Lake Now. Each group is committed to holding the city to its promise to refill the lake by May 1st, but they disagree on what the area should become.


Refill Silver Lake Now advocates a prompt refill, regardless of how it looks. They point to the migrating waterfowl who have used the reservoir as a nesting ground and say that these species may not return if the water isn’t put back soon. They also point out that firefighters use the reservoir to serve the area and that the lake is a symbol for the neighborhood.

Silver Lake Forward wants the community to think long-term about about the project’s sustainability. They want the city to modify the embankments of the lake to support plant life that could help clean and oxygenate the water, in addition to providing a more natural space for wildlife and people to enjoy.

The Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy has been around since long before the draining, successfully advocating for the reservoir’s designation as a Historic-Cultural Monument in 1989. They have served as a mediator for the refill discussion, surveying residents to gauge public opinion.

photo by David Liu / CC BY-SA

The survey revealed that the neighborhood has more on its mind than saving the ducks. The top concerns expressed about the project were traffic, trash/cleanliness, parking, and crowds. The idea of turning some of the former reservoir into a park was especially contentious — 52% said that they opposed removing some of the existing lake area and replacing it with park space, while 25% supported the idea and 23% were neutral. While Los Angeles is hurting for public space, anxiety over what parks attract seems to dominate the conversation. Over 60 written comments in the survey mentioned some aspect of public safety, citing “crime,” “violence,” or “graffiti,” and 19 comments expressed concern that park development might attract the homeless.

Even though 78% of residents supported removing the asphalt banks in the survey, an announcement by the L.A. Department of Water and Power (DWP) changed some minds. At a public meeting last November, the DWP said that removal of the concrete could delay the lake’s refill date, and advocacy groups began quarreling over whether the banks should still be replaced with something greener. Since all three groups have agreed to the May 1 deadline as their top priority, it’s looking like the city’s DWP will avoid having to tear up the banks in the near future, but they did offer to paint the embankments a more attractive color.

While Silver Lake residents disagree on what to do after the refill, Los Angeles is on track to begin filling the gap this spring. They have decided to route groundwater from existing wells into the reservoir through 2,300 feet of pipe. This water has too high a nitrate level to be potable and is usually dumped into the ocean. Proponents of turning the area into a park face big political hurdles, and it’s even unlikely that the fence around the lake will be taken down, as the DWP doesn’t want people swimming in it. All three advocacy groups are pushing for the city to alter sections of the embankment for test planting of drought-tolerant plants, so there is some hope of a slightly more sustainable reservoir. For the most part, though, Silver Lake residents, both human and bird, will likely get their reservoir back much the way it was.

photo by Junkyardsprakle / CC0


“DWP looking at whether to keep – and possibly paint – the concrete banks of Silver Lake Reservoir.” [Eastsider]

Silver Lake Reservoirs Community Survey [Silver Lake Reservoirs]

Swim Silver Lake

“The Silver Lake Reservoir Will Be Refilled—Probably in Spring.” [Curbed]

“What Can the Dry Silver Lake Reservoir Teach Us About the Future Ecology of Los Angeles?.” [KCET]