What’s Happening to the 1.5-Mile Path Surrounding Druid Hill Reservoir?

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Regular users of the path encompassing Baltimore’s historic Druid Hill Reservoir have likely found their activities disrupted by construction work in recent weeks. That’s all going to get much worse for the next half-decade or so, albeit for a noble reason.

Mayor Catherine Pugh, Acting Recreations and Parks Department Director Bill Vondrasek and others gathered at the park’s southeastern edge yesterday to announce the kickoff of an ambitious project. The Department of Public Works will spend the next five years installing two underground drinking water tanks holding a combined 54 millions of drinking water at the western side of the reservoir.

Consequently, crews will be fencing off a portion of the 1.5-mile path surrounding the lake. To try to make amends with runners, dog walkers and other regular path-users, the city has established the “Woodland Walk” as a temporary replacement. The path will serve “as a scenic 1.5-mile lternative to the Druid Reservoir Loop during construction,” according to DPW signage promoting the trail.

Druid Hill Reservoir has long served as a major source of the city’s drinking water. The government has owned the lake since 1863 and completed damming work – still visible in places from the grassy knoll next to southbound I-83 — on it in 1871.

It’s served its purpose well in its present form for more than 155 years. However, its naked state is out of compliance with a 2006 EPA rule requiring public drinking water to be enclosed or treated with additional chemicals. Baltimore’s new project, with a price tag of about $140 million, will add tanks beneath the lake as an alternative to using more chemicals, and supply lines to connect the tanks with the city’s water distribution system.

This has been years in the making. DPW first presented its proposal to add the tanks in 2013. The project is now proceeding after the Maryland Board of Public Works last month authorized $86.5 million in grants and $40.3 million in loans to fund it.

“All this is good for the health of our citizens here in Baltimore,” said DPW Director Rudy Chow at the announcement yesterday, per the Sun.

The city has targeted a projection completion date of March 2022. When it’s finished, the reservoir will be slightly smaller, with turf covering the subterranean storage tanks, and have a shoreline. The lake will remain, but its contents will no longer be used as a supply for drinking water. Officials say kayaking and other water activities may be allowed.

DPW says the change will add 14 acres of park space, with room for a new amphitheater, wider, lighted walkways and a restored lakeside path. The department also hopes improved maintenance of the lake’s aeration system will improve the reservoir’s water quality to support aquatic life.

Druid Hill Reservoir’s renovation is one of several planned water supply projects in the Baltimore area. The city also aims to convert its reservoir at Lake Ashburton to a similar tank-based system, and will modify another one in Guilford by fully covering it.

Ethan McLeod
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