A Los Angeles city plan to build an aluminum roof over the Elysian Reservoir to protect drinking water has stirred strong opposition from a citizens' group that contends the roof would destroy one of the most beautiful spots in Elysian Park.
"It would be a tremendous, ugly blot on the park. Many people use the area for walking and jogging, and they would be very much affected in their communication with nature by this industrial structure," said Sallie Neubauer, secretary of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park, which has a record of winning some fights with the city on park issues.
The seven-acre reservoir, which provides water to parts of downtown and Northeast Los Angeles, is in a thickly wooded hollow just north of the Pasadena Freeway and east of Dodger Stadium. Its 55 million gallons were drained recently to prepare for repaving its deteriorated walls. When it was filled, the reservoir seemed like a mountain lake, park enthusiasts say, even though it is surrounded by a chain-link fence and a freeway hum can be heard.
City water officials agree that the reservoir can be a lovely sight. But they stress that they are under a state mandate to strengthen water protection there. The state Department of Health Services last month sent a letter to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, saying that, although Elysian's water is still safe, the reservoir "is in danger of losing its status as an approved water supply."
DWP officials agreed that a roof would cut algae growth by blocking direct sunlight, provide a shield from windblown pollutants and bird droppings, and prevent vandals and swimmers from reaching the water. The cover would also reduce the need for chlorination, which involves use of some suspected carcinogens.
The only alternatives are to build a large water treatment plant or replace the reservoir with huge holding tanks--plans that officials say might harm the park's setting even more or be more expensive than the roof, which is expected to cost $4 million.
"Yes, it would change the vista," Henry Venegas, DWP's senior water planning engineer, said of the proposed roof. "But to what degree depends on the eyes of the beholder. Perhaps it won't bother some people who are there to look at the flora and fauna.
"Anyway, our first reason is to continue guaranteeing the safety of the water. As time goes on, the population grows and park use increases. So does the potential for some toxic material, some contamination, entering the water."
Despite protests from the citizens' committee, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners last week took the first step toward building a roof by approving a $1.4-million contract for repaving the reservoir and building footings that could hold wooden beams to support a roof. If a roof receives final approval, it would not make sense to repave now and rip up the new pavement for footings a few months later, the commissioners reasoned.
Edward Cranston, a member of the citizens' committee who lives on Park Row Drive near the reservoir, criticized that thinking. "My feeling is that, once the footings are in, the board would be biased in favor of the roof," he said. Cranston charged that DWP is exaggerating the degree of vandalism at the reservoir; he said teen-agers sometimes throw bottles over the barbed-wire-topped fence but that he has never heard of anyone swimming there.
As proposed by DWP staff, the repaving and footings would be finished and the reservoir refilled by May. It would be drained again in November, and a roof completed by May, 1987, when water would again be put in. The commission will study the roof proposal later this year, but a majority of its members appear to be supporting the idea, albeit reluctantly.
"One side of my brain tells me that we've lived with leaves and droppings there for 50 years and we can do so for another 50. But the other side says the state won't let us get away with it," commission President Jack W. Leeney said at last week's meeting.
Commissioner Walter Zelman, who also voted for the appropriation, said he would ask state Department of Health Services officials whether Elysian Reservoir could be exempted from any change that would lessen its beauty. He was not optimistic.
Any visual effect of a roof on Elysian Reservoir might be softened by a special coating and a color of paint designed to blend with nature, Venegas said. "It won't be shiny aluminum. It could be beige or even blue. That all is to be discussed in the future," he said.
The citizens' committee leaders say that, as environmentalists, they are committed to ensuring water quality. They say alternatives to a roof have not been investigated sufficiently and that they intend to keep fighting. "We don't want to poison people. But we don't want to wreck a park site unnecessarily," Neubauer said.