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Is the Silver Lake Reservoir a Target for Bioterrorism?

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Just when you thought it was safe to drink the water...comes an Associated Press report making the rounds today about the vulnerability of the nation's uncovered reservoirs and the ease with which they could be come contaminated. Among the U.S. cities pinpointed for having such gaping holes suitable for infiltrating with all manner of icky parasites and toxins is Los Angeles, where our Silver Lake reservoir is among those that is not in line with the rules put out by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006.

When it comes to "open-air" reservoirs that hold water ready to be sent to customers, "the fear is that a terrorist could drop or somehow get a toxic chemical agent" in there "and sicken people," explains the AP.

Egads! Our Silver Lake reservoir is, albeit strictly off limits to joggers and dog walkers, totally exposed. Cities are working to get up to par with the EPA rules, but the estimate for L.A. to get settled is 2022. Yep. That's 11 more years of living with the risk of being a target for bioterrorism.

It's a post 9/11 world, indeed: Even before the EPA set out the standards for protecting reservoirs in 2006, a 2004 paper authored by a University of Maryland professor identified "several dozen potential toxins, bacteria, viruses, protozoa and toxic industrial chemicals that have been identified as possible water contaminants that could be used by terrorists."

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The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has been working for several years, though, on a plan to bury the reservoir, though they still remain in the pre-construction phase. The LADWP explains the scope of the risk:

Open reservoirs in Los Angeles, including Silver Lake and Ivanhoe, store drinking water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the Metropolitan Water District, and groundwater sources. The treated water that enters the open reservoirs is exposed to contamination from surface runoff, birds, insects, animals, and humans. Also, sunlight and elevated temperatures, especially during the summer months, contribute to the growth of algae that degrades water quality and increases taste and odor problems. These problems will be eliminated by covering or bypassing these reservoirs.

Things are progressing, explains Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy's Maryann Kuk:

Silver Lake/Ivanhoe’s water quality improvement project includes the new underground water storage and delivery facility being built adjacent to the Los Angeles River and Griffith Park near Travel Town. When it’s completed (2015), the DWP will decommission both Silver Lake and Ivanhoe Reservoirs. As a part of this project, the River Supply Conduit is being replaced, which will mean a tunneling project under West Silver Lake Drive (which has been underway for about 18-24 months, and will continue). Additionally, in order to regulate the water pressure for the water serving Downtown and South Los Angeles, the DWP has to build a regulating station. Through the negotiation process, the DWP agreed to build it underground to minimize the amount of grassy open space that is to be occupied. So far, they have been doing a good job of moving as much of the equipment as possible towards the sidewalk in order to preserve the “grassy knoll” just west of the Silver Lake Recreation Center. This project is to begin in 2012 and continue for two years.

So, phew. Yes: The Silver Lake Reservoir is a potential target of bioterrorism. But we're, like, totally working on it.