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The Silver Lake Water History


The Los Angeles River

About 15,000 Years Ago, people began moving into the Los Angeles Basin and settling along the Los Angeles River. The Local Tongva (and later the Gabrieleno-Tongva and Fernandeno) knew the power pf the river and saw themselves as custodians of the land’s most precious resource: Water.

1781 North of present-day downtown, the Spanish designed the first irrigation system for El pueblo de Los Angeles. The Zanja Madre. Or mother ditch, fed water from the river through ditches called zanjas, to homes and farms. Zanjeros, or ditch tenders, regulated the flow of water through the canals.


The Zanja Madre

1860 A large waterwheel was built on the Zanja Madre which lifted water from Abila Springs to the city’s first reservoir at the Plaza. The waterwheel was eventually destroyed by floods.

Turn of the 20th Century The Zanja System that had served the city for over 100 years could no longer meet the needs of an ever-increasing population. A long drought convinced the new Los Angeles Water Department to build more reservoirs.


Silver Lake & Ivanhoe

1906 A new water source had to be found- The Silver Lake Reservoir was built

It would be synthesis of nature and technology, a feat of engineering not yet imagined. Fortunately, a former Zanjero, with a greater vision for bringing water to the city, was in place to meet the challenge.


Silver Lake Reservoir and the surrounding community was named after Herman Silver, president of the first Water Commission. Ivanhoe Reservoir was names after Ivanhoe, the 1819 novel by Sir Walter Scott and a township by that name.