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DWP's Headworks project to replace Silver Lake, Ivanhoe reservoirs within a year

A downed tree smashed through a fence at Silver Lake reservoir, Dec. 1, 2011.
A downed tree smashed through a fence at Silver Lake reservoir, Dec. 1, 2011.
Oscar Garza/KPCC

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Drinking water in Los Angeles is the cleanest it’s ever been. But new federal regulations are requiring expensive changes to LA’s drinking water system.

A $230 million construction project, now in progress, will replace existing water storage in the city of Los Angeles. On Friday, the Department of Water and Power offered a rare glimpse at the Headworks reservoir, tucked between Interstate 5 and Griffith Park and a neighbor to Forest Lawn Cemetery.

“We really like the fact that you’ve picked this site,” DWP site manager Alex Raymon said to a colleague, “because our neighbors are very quiet.”

Councilman Tom LaBonge picked up on the joke. “Well I got ‘em to vote for it, and I got a hundred percent vote,” he added, to much laughter.

Raymon says it helps to have quiet neighbors. DWP crews are active between 3 a.m. and 8 p.m. most days, working to finish the first of two phases of Headworks by next November. The deadline is part of an Environmental Protection Agency mandate.

The DWP’s water operations director, Marty Adams, says EPA issued a new rule requiring L.A. to cut down on the byproducts from disinfecting drinking water.

Another rule demands more protection for open reservoirs.

Two-thirds of L.A.’s open reservoirs are in compliance with the Long-Term Surface Water Treatment Rule. A few, like the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs, need to be replaced because poor soil conditions make upgrading them impractical. 

“So we looked for a site upstream along the pipe route,” Adams said. 

One reservoir at Headworks will be a trapezoidal container, 35 feet deep, with 500-foot walls of poured concrete reinforced with rebar.

“Seventy thousand cubic yards of concrete to get this done, OK. One concrete truck? Ten yards,” DWP site manager Alex Raymon said.

That reservoir, and a second at the site, will together store 110 million gallons of water. Raymon says pipes to and from Headworks will last a century, maybe two.

He points to a pile of pipe awaiting installation nearby. “It’s mortar coated on the outside, mortar coated on the inside. And it’s some of the best steel in the world,” he said.

DWP will pay penalties if they don’t meet a federal deadline for drinking water. Crews are working 16 hours a day to finish the first phase of Headworks a year from now.

Once they’re done, the reservoirs at Headworks will have something in common with their neighbors. The reservoirs' skeletons will be buried below a mound of dirt, planted with grass and vegetation, invisible and perhaps forgotten by people passing by.