By compressing the time frame needed for biological, leak and other engineering tests, contractors should be able to open underground water storage tanks at Druid Lake and Lake Ashburton by year’s end, Baltimore’s public works chief says.
In an October 13 progress report reviewed by The Brew, Interim DPW Director Richard J. Luna told federal and state officials that nine “action items” are behind schedule.
“However, this is not a delay,” he stressed, saying the city’s agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will be met.
How will DPW get the Ashburton tanks up and running on November 30 and the Druid tanks on December 30?
By speeding up the testing of the jumbo-sized tanks and network of piping prior to their tie-in to the city’s water system.
For example, leak, pressure and turbidity tests, which were projected to take four weeks, will be compressed into 9-13 days, Luna said.
Similarly, the main contractor, Texas-based Oscar Renda, has promised to cut the time needed for water quality testing by 50% and expedite the last-minute installation of three large pipe couplings.
“The contractor believes that by working overtime and adding extra shifts to the construction schedule, they will be able to compress the time needed to complete the items and achieve the functional use deadline despite the delay,” Luna explained to EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division Chief Amy Cohen and other regulators.
Completion of the tank projects took on renewed urgency last month when a low level of cryptosporidium was detected in Druid Lake.
Sampling for “crypto” – a parasite that can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting in adults and more serious symptoms for the immunocompromised – was ordered by the EPA last spring after the city missed multiple deadlines to finish the required work.
For more than a century, Baltimore stored its drinking water at the open-air Druid and Ashburton reservoirs.
In 2009, the EPA ordered Baltimore, among other cities, to either cover the reservoirs, treat the water a second time or build underground tanks to prevent animal or human waste from entering the water supply.
The city eventually opted for the tanks, and construction started in 2017, with a projected completion date of spring 2021.
Two years after that deadline went unmet, EPA ordered the city to place the tanks in “functional use” by the end of 2023 or else face potential penalties.
In his progress report, Luna confirmed that recent tests by a Vermont laboratory showed no evidence of crypto or giardia, another parasite, in either reservoir.
“We are including all sampling that was done since the positive cryptosporidium result at Druid Lake Reservoir,” he told Cohen, vouching for the city’s submissions as “true, accurate and complete.”
DPW says it will conduct weekly sampling at the reservoirs until drinking water storage is switched to the tanks prior to distribution to the 1.8 million people who rely on the city’s water system.