Today is the latest deadline set by federal officials for Baltimore to begin using underground storage tanks at the Lake Ashburton reservoir. But the city will not meet it, The Brew has learned.
Water quality testing conducted last week for the new tanks “showed slightly elevated chlorine and pH levels,” Department of Public Works (DPW) spokeswoman Tierra Brown said.
Because that finding “has the potential to interfere with other water quality tests, flushing and resampling of the water was required,” Brown said.
Subsequent tests passed water quality standards on Sunday, but the delay has now pushed the likely completion of the project into December.
“The need to conduct flushing and resampling has resulted in the functional use of the Ashburton tanks being slightly delayed past the original November 30, 2023 deadline,” Brown wrote in a statement to The Brew.
The agency “anticipates full usage of the tanks can be accomplished within the next two weeks, pending further test results,” she added.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials have not yet responded to a query from The Brew about the missed deadline, but Brown’s statement implies the agency is not perturbed by it.
“Given the delay is out of an abundance of caution to conduct water quality testing rather than construction delays, DPW is working with the EPA on a revised schedule,” she wrote.
UPDATE: Brown said this afternoon that DPW has been “granted an extension by the EPA to achieve functional use by December 15, 2023.”
History of Delays
That wasn’t the tone last May when the EPA rebuked Baltimore for missing multiple deadlines over many years to end its use of surface water at Ashburton Reservoir and Druid Lake Reservoir.
Chiding Baltimore for foot-dragging, EPA ordered DPW to complete its project to install and begin using underground storage tanks for drinking water and gave the city specific deadlines:
November 30 for Lake Ashburton and December 30 for Druid Lake.
The tank project 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.
Delays hampered the projects, including nine “action items” DPW’s Interim Director Richard Luna acknowledged in October were behind schedule. Speeding up the testing, Luna said at the time, would keep the city on track.
In addition to issuing a deadline for the city to begin using water from the tanks, EPA also ordered DPW to begin testing the open air reservoir water for contaminants – and in September they found some.
The health-harming parasite cryptosporidium was found in Druid Lake.
Immunocompromised individuals, those with HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable groups were advised to drink boiled or bottled water.
Test Result Website Malfunction
After subsequent tests came back negative, immunocompromised people were still advised to avoid tap water “out of an abundance of caution.” (Even people with healthy immune systems can get sick from cryptosporidium but the symptoms – including diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps – are generally less severe.)
City officials said at the time that Baltimore was on schedule to meet its project deadlines.
DPW says the Druid Lake project remains on schedule.
Since the finding of cryptosporidium, the city began sampling the water at Druid Lake and Lake Ashburton on a weekly basis. They’ve been posting results of testing for crytosporidium and another parasite, giardia on a special DPW web page.
But when we checked the website earlier this week, the latest finding posted, for November 20, came up “Page not found.”
Brown said the message “was the result of a temporary website malfunction.” She said the November 20th results were negative and have since been published.
As of this morning, the results for that day on the DPW website still comes up: “Page not found.”