Federal environmental officials confirm that, after missing a deadline for completion last month, Baltimore has now begun to use the recently installed underground reservoir tanks at Lake Ashburton.
“The Ashburton covered water tank is operational,” Neil Shader, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told The Brew today.
The Baltimore Department of Public Works (DPW) has not responded to several queries about whether the project would be ready ahead of the latest deadline set for the project – December 15, this past Friday.
The EPA had set a November 30 deadline for the city to end its use of surface water as a source of public drinking water – a goal that was to be accomplished with the installation of two underground tanks at the West Baltimore site.
When the city couldn’t meet the deadline – because elevated chlorine levels in the tank water required flushing and re-testing – the EPA gave the city an extra two weeks.
The EPA’s Shader referred further questions about the project to the Maryland Department of the Environment, which has not yet provided its response.
History of Delays
The Ashburton project and a similar one – to install massive underground tanks at the Druid Lake reservoir – have been plagued with years of delays.
Chiding Baltimore for foot-dragging, EPA in May ordered DPW to complete its project to begin using the underground storage tanks it has been installing at Ashburton and another open air source of drinking water, the Druid Lake reservoir.
It was unclear today whether the Druid Lake project is expected to meet its EPA deadline, December 30.
The two tank projects stemmed from new rules put forward by the EPA in 2006 requiring municipalities with uncovered storage to take action to protect drinking water from contaminants like bird droppings, runoff and trash.
The projects got an extra note of urgency in September when the health-harming parasite cryptosporidium was found in Druid Lake.
Subsequent sampling at Druid Lake, and Ashburton, found no signs of cryptosporidium or giardia. Both parasites can cause people to get sick, with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.
Nevertheless, immunocompromised individuals, those with HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable groups, who can suffer serious and even fatal illness from the parasites, have been advised to drink boiled or bottled water in the aftermath of the crypto finding and because the underground tanks have not been put into use.