Water main breaks between University Village and the NE 45th Street viaduct (UPDATE)

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Roosevelt “lake” views headed down the drain as reservoir empties (UPDATE)

Ravenna and Roosevelt neighbors near the Roosevelt Reservoir were told (via mail, around Saturday, April 6), that not only was the reservoir disconnected from the city’s water system on Monday, April 1, it will soon be drained…and stay that way, for two years.

Photo by Jenifer Gonzales

Roosevelt Reservoir, by neighbor Jenifer Gonzales.

The clock started ticking for all of the city’s open reservoirs back in the mid-1990s with the passage of an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). This amendment “added new requirements related to annual water quality reports, operator certification requirements, system capacity, and source water assessment and protection.”

In 2004, the Seattle City Council approved a plan to fund the covering of four of the city’s reservoirs at a cost of $150 million.

Then, in 2006, a federal law “required all uncovered drinking water distribution reservoirs to either be covered or treated to a high standard.”

Of the city’s open reservoirs, six have now been replaced with underground structures: Magnolia in 1995, Lincoln in 2004, Myrtle in 2008, Beacon in 2009, West Seattle in 2010, and Maple Leaf in 2012. All but the Magnolia site were transformed into parks by various Seattle Parks and Recreation levy funds.

There are four above-ground reservoirs remaining: The Bitter Lake, Lake Forest Park, Volunteer, and Roosevelt Reservoirs.

Volunteer Park Reservoir in 2008, by Flickr user stevevoght

Volunteer Park Reservoir in 2008, by Flickr user stevevoght.

Floating covers have been installed at the Bitter Lake and Lake Forest Park facilities, and will remain through the operational life of these two reservoirs.

As for the Volunteer and Roosevelt Reservoirs, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has started testing them for potential decommissioning:

To perform the tests, the reservoirs were taken out of service on April 1, 2013. While out of service, Roosevelt Reservoir will be kept drained, while Volunteer Reservoir will remain full with water and continue to be a water feature at the park.

The reservoirs will remain disconnected from the City’s drinking water system throughout the two-year test. During this time, SPU will study the impact the out-of-service facilities have on Seattle’s overall drinking water system, make evaluations and determine whether the reservoirs can be permanently taken out of service.

If SPU finds that the reservoirs are no longer needed, the costs saved by not having to replace them with covered storage facilities would run between $10 and $50 million dollars. Each.

If and when SPU decides the Roosevelt and/or Volunteer Reservoirs ares no longer needed, public process would then kick in, and neighbors would have a say in their futures.

Until then, enjoy a nice, tall glass of (c0vered) Maple Leaf Reservoir water, now flowing out of our taps.

For more information on the Roosevelt Reservoir decommissioning test, visit the Reservoir Covering Project page on the Seattle Public Utilities website.

UPDATE (Thursday, April 18): At least one neighbor of the Roosevelt Reservior has asked SPU “Why us?” And here is the reply by Bill Wells, Senior Engineer of the Drinking Water Division:

We had to make a difficult decision in weighing the benefits of keeping Roosevelt Reservoir full versus the additional costs to the customers of Seattle. We estimated that it would cost an additional $100,000 each year (about $200,000 in total) to keep the reservoir full during the two-year decommissioning test.

The costs to keep Roosevelt filled and maintained are significantly more than that of Volunteer.  This is because Roosevelt Reservoir is a 50-million-gallon reservoir – more than twice the size of the 20-million-gallon Volunteer Reservoir.

Another key factor in the decision to refill Volunteer Reservoir is the park’s historical landmark status, of which the reservoir is a contributing feature.

We wish we could maintain water in both reservoirs throughout the two-year test period, but in the end we decided it was in the best interest of the city as a whole to keep Roosevelt Reservoir empty throughout the testing period.