Neighbors Leery of City Plan to Repurpose Drinking Water Reservoir

In 2006, the EPA mandated more stringent regulations for finished drinking water storage in order to ensure public health and safety. As the Baltimore City Department of Public Works designs the project plan for Druid Hill Reservoir, one of several sites in the city that must come under compliance by the June 25, 2018 deadline, public outcries have challenged them every step of the way.

At the February 13th informational meeting, Shonte Eldridge (Director of Communications and Community Affairs for DPW) summarized the preliminary project plan to a room filled with over 40 concerned citizens and the Vice President of Whitman, Requardt & Associates, LLP – one of two engineering firms contracted as a consultant to the project. The Friends of Druid Hill Park, a nonprofit association dedicated to maintaining and protecting the park, was also in attendance to promote preserving the historic character of the lake and its surrounding environment.

Currently, water is delivered from the Montebello treatment plant to Druid Hill Reservoir as finished drinking water, which then undergoes one final chlorination phase on its way into the water mains for distribution. The Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2) mandates that open-air reservoirs for drinking water now be protected, either by covering them or adding an additional treatment phase using ultraviolet radiation to kill certain bacteria. DPW initially proposed a UV treatment site to the southeast of Druid Hill Reservoir, which Reservoir Hill residents spoke out against and successfully vetoed.  Aside from the public’s disapproval of the plan, the City maintains that the UV option is now off the table due to predictions that in the near future the Feds will update regulations once again to make storage tanks the only option, thus making it the most practical option (from a long-term fiscal standpoint) to install the tanks now. Under Baltimore’s latest plan for compliance with LT2, the lake at Druid Hill Park will no longer be part of the water supply.

The concept map shared at the informational meeting showed two underground storage tanks to the west of the lake, with slight reshaping of the northwestern lakeshore to accommodate the tanks. With the reservoir no longer a part of the drinking water system, new opportunities for its use will arise.  Although recreation is currently prohibited on the reservoir, Eldridge emphasized that community input would be sought at future discussions hosted by the Department of Parks & Recreation to consider options such as fishing, boating, paddleboats, and even swimming.

Concept map courtesy of Baltimore City Department of Public Works

 Citizens voiced many concerns, from “how will you keep the lake from drying up?” to what may happen to Taylor’s Grove and a newly commissioned art sculpture that lies in the path of construction. Eldridge made it clear that the precise impact of the project on the tree canopy will remain unknown until they enter the design phase. She also advised that scientists are investigating evaporation rates to determine whether there is an actual risk that the water level cannot be maintained naturally and via the stormwater system from the nearby Maryland Zoo, which funnels into the lake.

Many citizens are afraid that once the lake becomes a recreation asset, funding will be limited – especially considering that the entire project is a regional partnership among stakeholders without a vested interest a Baltimore City park, despite its historic significance. When Eldridge mentioned the possibility of rerouting finished drinking water from the proposed adjacent holding tanks in order to compensate for evaporation in the lake, community members immediately questioned how DPW would convince regional partners to agree to using drinking water to keep a Baltimore City lake filled for recreational purposes.  There was a palpable air of skepticism among the audience that the proposed scenarios would come to fruition and that they wouldn’t be left with a dried up lakebed and a ravaged landscape within their beloved park.

Karen Moran of WRA, LLP volunteered to explain why certain areas – what the community may consider to be more desirable locations– were simply not an option for the site of the two underground tanks. Drinking water will be fed by gravity from the Montebello treatment plant to the Druid Hill tanks. The tank capacities will be 18 million gallons (400 foot diameter) and 35 million gallons (550 foot diameter). Because the ground and the bedrock below rises significantly to the west of the existing lake, there is a finite area that is at the proper depth to adequately accept the water flowing downstream into the Druid Hill system.

In response, community members proposed using pumps to move the water through the system in order to overcome the limitations of geology and gravity, in the hopes that the proposed site could be relocated. However this would significantly increase the price tag of the project, already estimated at $112 million, in addition to adding the unwanted eyesore of buildings associated with a pumping station. Others asked if the tanks could be moved to various areas where installation may be less disruptive to current recreational uses and aesthetics of the historic park. Eldridge concluded the exchange by summarizing, “the engineers are telling us, this is where they gotta go.”

With threats of a stop order and requests for a field trip to show them exactly where the tanks would be buried, the conversation with the community is far from over. The design phase for the plan is scheduled to be complete by February 28, 2014, and the mandated deadline for federal compliance with LT2 is June 25, 2018. There is a $37,500 fine per day for each day that project completion is delayed. DPW has not offered an earlier target deadline for the project.


Do you think the community’s concerns are legitimate in the face of a federal mandate to secure drinking water? The Reservoir Hill neighborhood successfully vetoed the UV option, with its lesser pricetag ($42 million) and more sustainable water treatment method. Does the greater community deserve the same concessions if they are dissatisfied with the current proposal? What options does the City of Baltimore have, when faced with a fixed deadline and stiff penalty fines, to please the community while taking action that is both environmentally and fiscally responsible?

One Response to “Neighbors Leery of City Plan to Repurpose Drinking Water Reservoir”
  1. Dunk says:

    I have complete confidence that the city will screw this up. Maybe when the lake dries, they can turn it into a Formula One speedway.

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