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.


  1. Roger Dodger says:

    This moment of expensive lunacy is brought to you courtesy of the Bush-Cheney cabal. Or doesn’t anyone recall the stampede point for this massive conversion? “Terrorists might poison our drinking water!” OMG!!! The sky is falling!!!

    Ten years and $150 million later, there’s apparently still no such threat to the drinking water of Bitter Lake and Lake Forest Park. A floating cover is perfectly fine for those guys. But in less than that time Seattle has dropped $150 million and utility rates have doubled.

    “If and when SPU decides the Roosevelt and/or Volunteer Reservoirs ares no longer needed…” With the kind of density planned for Roosevelt in the next decade, and Capitol Hill already jammed up but still building more, how could we possibly NOT need these facilities?

    Personally, I’m more concerned with the stench of chlorine coming out my tap. That’s courtesy of SPU, not some “terrorist.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Still holding onto the past. I suggest you get over it. Securing our infrastructure not only created jobs, but put millions of dollars back into this economy. Judging by your Bush/Cheney comment you really put perspective on how narrow-minded you are. As you know Chlorine is used as a primary treatment method, with UV being the secondary. I can assure you, that being in the Water Treatment Industry, our water is some of the best in the country. Go hug a tree!

      • Roger Dodger says:

        “Anonymous.” It figures. Go back into your Fox News bunker and come back when you’ve got more than a handful of chlorine.

    • Leviathan says:

      I am as anti-Bush as the next guy, but up-grading the national (and Seattle) water supply was long overdue before 9/11. Having treated drinking water sit in open reserviors is a 19th century solution and one that requires much higher level of chlorine application (that you complain about).

      • Roger Dodger says:

        Upgrading may well have been due, but it wasn’t the big selling point. Allow me to quote directly from SPU’s web site. It’s not quite as stated above.

        “Floating covers were installed at Bitter Lake and Lake Forest Park reservoirs and these covers will remain in place through the operational life of the facilities. SPU has increased security at these facilities.”

        Notice what’s been omitted from the press release quote above? What’s all that about “increased security?” Oh yeah, that’s right. Aqua-terrorism.

        “There is a direct link, though, to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. All those workers and machines and all that expensive concrete and steel on view at the site are there to bury the Maple Leaf Reservoir. The city started covering some open-water reservoirs in the late 1990s; the program picked up speed after the World Trade Center’s collapse. “Protecting our water system became a paramount goal since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Under-ground reservoirs are the most effective way to improve security,” Seattle Public Utilities writes.”

  2. Please keep in mind that the Seattle reservoir-covering plan pre-dates the 9/11 attacks and the renewed focus on security. The plan was developed out of public health concerns about non-terrorist threats to water quality and the waste of water and human resources to empty and clean the reservoir to ensure that the water in it was safe to drink.

  3. Just curious about the decision to keep the Volunteer Park Reservoir filled as a water feature while Roosevelt residents suffer through two years of living with the eyesore of the drained Roosevelt Reservoir. Couldn’t the latter be kept filled as well?

    • I believe the plan was to try one filled and the other drained. The Volunteer Reservoir is in a large, well-used park. The Roosevelt Reservoir is next to a busy arterial. That is my guess as to why Roosevelt was chosen to be drained.

      I’ll contact SPU with your question, though. Maybe there is another answer.

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  7. I have heard from Park Dept sources that, unlike the other Seattle reservoirs, the Ravenna one will not be turned into a park. With thousands of new residents coming to live in the new monolithic Ravenna developments, the reservoir is already slated to go to, you guessed it, more development. How ugly can we make one neighborhood in 10 years?

    New housing, including low income housing, can always be added by building up, and it should already have been accommodated and paid for by existing new development. Oops! guess we left that part out. Unlike housing, public parks must be totally land based. According to the Department of Planning and Development we will be suffering a 70 acre/year open space shortfall every year for the next 20 years. Without sufficient trees and open space there will be more polluted storm water runoff, more particulate pollution making for more air quality alerts, more heat and heat exacerbated illnesses, fewer birds and urban wildlife, and less community connectivity. We will have less bikable and less walkable neighborhoods and we will certainly not look scenic to visitors.

    The low income people in particular need open space since they don’t get to have homes with heat pumps, don’t fly to Hawaii for a vacation from big City life, send their kids to camp, or drive to work in their air-conditioned SUVs.

    This is not the City that was promised to us in the Comprehensive Plan. Density that does not include infrastructure, including green infrastructure, is folly. It’s a mistake that the governors of Seattle are making, big-time, and the neighborhoods pay the price of that folly.

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  11. 2020Why says:

    hey. so this is all interesting information but we are voting again and the water system/ supply is not talked about. All I can think of is Flint Michigan. I would also think this is a local issue, maybe the Feds suggests we cover but still seems like nothing is happening- 2020 July.


  1. […] A similar trial is underway at the Roosevelt Reservoir in the north of the city, one of the four remaining above-ground reservoirs in the city. […]

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