Annual Dam Jam celebrates Baltimore area's drinking water reservoirs

Brian Shealey hoisted his young daughter onto his shoulders and walked along a display showing the timeline of the Baltimore region’s wastewater facilities going back more than 100 years.

While 2-year-old Hannah was more interested in the band playing behind them, Shealey took time to glance at the historical photos showing the development of the infrastructure that manages water in the area.

At the annual Dam Jam Festival in Cromwell Valley Park on Saturday, attendees celebrated the region’s drinking water reservoirs while also taking part in activities like face painting, Lego building and creating balloon animals.

“The value is that it’s really educational without seeming educational to the kids,” said Mark Cameron, head of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works’ watershed planning and partnership section. “They have fun and get to learn about things like where rainwater goes and where drinking water comes from — and I think a lot of adults learn, too.”

The free event was presented by the city’s public works department in partnership with Baltimore County and the Hamilton Art Collective.

People should come away from the festival “with the knowledge that there’s more to the water supply than just turning a tap,” said public works department spokesman Jeffrey Raymond.

To give people that additional context, free shuttles ran continuously between the park and Loch Raven Dam. Visitors could take a tour of the dam and learn about the way the dam and reservoir work to provide millions of gallons of water a day to the city and Baltimore County.

“The idea is to give people a sense of what goes into producing their water,” Raymond said. “Seeing this gigantic resource is kind of an eye opener for a lot of people.”

William Blume, 39, toured the dam with his children. A large sign in front of the dam informed them that the watershed area encompasses 303 square miles and the reservoir has a capacity of 23 billion gallons.

Seven-year-old Kirstyn Anderson-Blume mused about what it would be like to swim in the massive reservoir, and her siblings whipped out their phones to capture pictures of the water and geese.

For 15-year-old Knycol Anderson-Mays, the visit served as career inspiration. The Pikesville High School student is good at math, and her “main goal in life” is to work as an engineer who helps people and wildlife. She asked questions throughout the tour about how the dam was built and how it operates.

“I learned that so many engineers helped build this,” she said.

Keith Zumbrun, 65, drives past the dam every day but had never gone on a tour.

“I’m impressed with 23 billion gallons of anything,” the Glen Arm resident said.

At the park, various vendors set up to educate visitors about Baltimore’s water systems. Families could pet search-and-rescue dogs, talk to members of the Baltimore Bird Club or listen to live music.

Peter Cline came to the event to celebrate his son Andrew’s second birthday. His children were especially taken by the chickens and the turkey coop set up on park grounds.

“It’s a nice day to just be outside and be with the family,” said Cline, 40.

Cameron, of the public works department, brought a watershed model that depicted what happens to rainwater after it goes down a storm drain.

Nine-year-old Charlie Crown squirted fake rainwater onto the street in front of tiny model rowhouses, then watched as the water made its way through underground pipes and eventually ended up in a bucket representing the Chesapeake Bay.

Cameron warned that the pipes could also transport trash on the street if debris washed down with the rain.

“You shouldn’t litter,” Charlie said. “It goes into the streams and then the fish die. And it makes drinking water not clean.”

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