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Reservoirs of Harmony : Residents, DWP Agree on Preserving Beauty of Lakes

March 26, 1992|KEN ELLINGWOOD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SILVER LAKE — Years of rancor over proposals to alter Silver Lake's drinking-water reservoirs came to a harmonious end Monday as resident groups and Los Angeles water officials said they have agreed that water quality can be improved in the lakes without marring their beauty.

In their first public comment after more than a year of closed-door mediation with residents, representatives of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power indicated that the agency probably will not cover Ivanhoe Reservoir and that alternatives can be found to the construction of a filtration plant next to Silver Lake, the larger adjoining lake that gives the community its name. The lakes serve 250,000 to 300,000 households.

The DWP proposed mediation to calm protests over the agency's preliminary water quality improvement program, which included the options of encasing Ivanhoe in rubber and building a filtration plant beside Silver Lake.

The two projects were aimed at stemming the growth of algae and fly larvae, which have prompted customer complaints about the appearance and taste of the water from the Silver Lake reservoirs but pose no health danger.

The plans emerging from the mediation process appear to be a major gain for Silver Lake residents who have bitterly resisted any DWP improvements that would alter the reservoirs' aesthetic role as a centerpiece for the surrounding hillside neighborhoods.

Prior to the mediation, a series of community meetings deteriorated into hostile exchanges between DWP officials and residents who were enraged by the twin specters of a filtration plant at one end of Silver Lake and a cover over the Ivanhoe Reservoir.

But with an estimated 400 residents packed into Friendship Hall on Riverside Drive this week, the only static came from an uncooperative sound system. The mood was more congratulatory than contentious.

Sharon Flanagan, president of the Committee to Save Silver Lake's Reservoirs and a participant in the mediation, said that DWP personnel changes have led to better agency cooperation with residents and a willingness to examine the circumstances of reservoirs individually in its systemwide water-improvement strategy. Flanagan said she hoped to persuade long-suspicious residents that the agency is improving.

"I think (DWP officials) need to know that if they behave in a different way, the community will react in a different way," Flanagan said. "Clearly, the majority of people had a positive feeling."

The water agency representatives in turn were contrite, bluntly acknowledging that the DWP had blundered in the past by ignoring residents' feelings.

"We've made tremendous strides, and even if we have some areas where we don't agree, the process has provided a new horizon for the department, a new way of doing business with the public," said Jim Wickser, the department's assistant general manager.

Wickser said that any improvements needed at Silver Lake probably are still years away. If a filtration plant is needed eventually, the mediation teams have identified several possible sites away from the lake, such as one near a DWP facility between Fletcher Drive and the Glendale Freeway.

For now, Silver Lake is unaffected by the federal clean-water rules that are forcing more immediate treatment measures for open reservoirs in Hollywood, Encino and Bel-Air, all vulnerable to pollutants carried by runoff, Wickser said.

DWP engineer Cecilia Trehuba said the department could avoid covering Ivanhoe, which is separated by a dam from Silver Lake's northern tip, by substituting two other projects. One, which could start in the fall of 1993, would involve draining and cleaning the reservoir and restoring its broken concrete lining. And starting in the spring of 1995, the department would install a 230-foot-diameter tank east of the lake to remove sand from incoming water.

Meanwhile, separate plans already call for a buried tank to replace the Rowena Reservoir nearby, which was closed late last year because officials feared it might not stand up to a strong earthquake.

Architects are to propose designs for the site that will include a water element such as a fountain or stepped waterfall, said Alana Knaster, the DWP-hired mediator who is conducting simultaneous talks with several community groups who joined to challenge earlier DWP plans to cover or build filtration plants at the city's remaining 10 open reservoirs.

Discussions over the reservoir in Elysian Park, which also is being handled by the Silver Lake team, are still in "very long-term planning," Knaster said.

Flanagan said the Silver Lake groups hope that mediation also will lead to a long-term approach for use of the reservoir complex, which now includes DWP facilities, a recreation area, a child-care center and several stands of trees.

A master plan for the area could include bicycling and walking paths, tree planting and might even address traffic problems on streets around Silver Lake and Ivanhoe Reservoir, said Jim Bonar, president of the Silver Lake Residents Assn.

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