For 60 years — since Dwight Eisenhower's first term as president — a new reservoir for the Baltimore area has been on the books. Now, the huge project is finally getting underway.
When completed, three covered storage tanks in Fullerton will hold 62 million gallons of treated drinking water for Baltimore, Baltimore County and other localities that use the city's sprawling water system. The cost: $78 million.
The tanks, designed to replace an open-air reservoir at Baltimore's Druid Hill Park, are being built in response to federal and state regulations that require treated drinking water to be stored in covered areas. It's a different approach from vast lakes, including the Loch Raven, Prettyboy and Liberty reservoirs, that hold untreated water.
Fullerton resident Peggy Winchester, president of the South Perry Hall Boulevard Improvement Association, became interested in the project when she heard about it in the early 1990s. But it was considered so far on the county's back burner that, "I threw away all the boxes of material on that and said, 'This will never happen in my lifetime.'"
"All of a sudden, it reared its ugly head," she said.
Water system officials realized as far back as 1955 that they would need to store water at Fullerton, and land was purchased in the late 1950s off Bucks School House Road between Perry Hall Boulevard and Ridge Road. In addition to the proposed reservoirs, the site already houses a water pumping station and is designed for a future water treatment plant.
"This site is the final big piece to the system," said Steve Walsh, chief of the bureau of engineering and construction for Baltimore County's Department of Public Works.
The tanks are designed to ensure constant water flow through the system and provide storage for firefighting and other emergency needs, according to the county Public Works Department, which is overseeing the project.
Each of the three reservoirs will be a white circular holding tank, 312 feet across. They're 40 feet tall and will be partially underground to obscure them from view. Still, they'll stick out 15 to 25 feet above ground.
County officials expect to put the project out for bid in the spring, with construction starting late this year and completion by 2018. Crews will work mostly from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., but at some points work will proceed around the clock when concrete is poured for the tanks' floors and roofs.
Winchester said neighbors are concerned about truck traffic on nearby Bucks School House Road during the three-year construction phase. They'd also prefer an open-air reservoir, but understand new regulations require the reservoirs to be closed off.
"They will hopefully have some covering around it, so you won't be seeing the tanks," Winchester said.
Baltimore County officials said rolling topography and engineering requirements prevented them from fully burying the tanks. Some landscaping will be added, but the tanks won't be completely hidden from view.
"It really depends on where you are," Walsh said. "Some places, you won't see it at all. Other places, you'll see the tank."
Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican who represents the area, said public works officials were easy to work with on a recent, smaller reservoir project in the Towson section of his district. He expects the same as the Fullerton project progresses.
"They were very approachable. They were very responsive to any complaints we had," Marks said.
Baltimore County is leading construction of the Fullerton reservoirs and is paying about 43 percent of the cost.
Baltimore will put up the other 57 percent, but is expected to recoup some of its money from Howard and Anne Arundel counties, which also participate in the regional water system.
At Druid Hill Park, the city plans to build two covered reservoirs for additional storage of treated drinking water. Eventually, Druid Lake will no longer store drinking water, but will remain a feature of the park, said Michael Mazurek, chief of water design for the county.