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Double duty: Artwork, irrigation system takes shape in the form of a water wheel

By Hayley Fox
Published: Tuesday, August 14, 2012, at 11:31AM
Flickr via calvinfleming

A new locally sourced irrigation system is planned for downtown to help water the L.A. State Historic Park.

The Los Angeles River may soon be put to work again in DTLA, used to irrigate the expansive L.A. State Historic Park with the help of a 60-foot-tall, functioning water wheel.

Geosyntech's Mark Hanna is the chief engineer on the project, and said the system could provide 28 million gallons of water per year for the 32-acre park, and save about $100,000 in watering costs for the grass, trees and foliage.

In addition to function, the water wheel, "brings the past into the discussion" by recalling the late 19th century when 10 water wheels used to spin in the area, Hanna said.

Engineers, city and county officials and local artist Lauren Bon along with her company Metabolic Studio are working together as a "public-private partnership" to move the project forward at the site on the outskirts of Chinatown. Bon, who has worked with the historic park before when she transformed the area into a cornfield five or six years ago, is aiming to commemorate the 100-year-anniversay of the aqueduct's opening in L.A. -- which occurs in November of 2013.

“I think it’s really critical for us to take a pause and think about our definition of the city,” Bon said, according to the website of L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “My position is that it’s time to look at the next hundred years. This work is about saying we need to do a lot better very quickly with figuring out two things: how to retain our water and how to send the rest of it out to sea cleaner.”

Although many portions of the L.A. River are often scarce for water, Hanna said that even in the driest parts of the year this Downtown portion of river should have enough water to power the water wheel because it draws from multiple sources including recycled water, urban run-off and rising groundwater.

The flowing water will be guided into a side channel, where buckets attached to the water wheel will lift river water up and discharge it into a pipeline. From there it will be filtered and used to irrigate.

The process for creating and installing this water wheel is "complicated," said Hanna, but he's confident all of the technical aspects can be solved; it's the layers of red tape that will provide a few hurdles. Between all the agencies involved from the Department of Water and Power (DWP) to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the project will have to pass through 10 different permitting agencies and receive 17 different permissions -- that's more than what's needed to build a football stadium in L.A., said Hanna.

The majority of the project will be funded through Bon's Metabolic Studio, a project by the Annenberg Foundation. Although the total budget is still unknown, costs are estimated to climb into the millions, Yaroslavsky's website reports.

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