Housing Complex

Extra Park Space for McMillan? Not in My Reservoir

In response to my post yesterday on the controversy over the development of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site, a number of readers commented that the community desire for additional park space could be satisfied by incorporating a portion of the McMillan reservoir area across First Street NW. The reservoir and its surrounding green space are currently fenced off, but moving the fence to the edge of the reservoir, some of you suggested, would provide more than ample greenery to complement the nine acres of open space in the planned development across the street.

Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth commented:

Note that the reservoir across the street from the 25-acre sand filtration site in question is 68 acres.  Many other cities used their drinking water reservoirs as a recreational amenity.  We should be able to as well.  We dont need more than the already generous amount of park space for the proposed development plan, we need the Army Corps of Engineers to work with us on its 68-acre reservoir site that contains the original park and fountain.

That seemed like a sensible idea, so I got in touch with Tom Jacobus of the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the reservoir. His answer? Not gonna happen.

"From a water treatment point of view, it would not be possible," Jacobus said. "The green space on the east side are underground storage reservoirs. It’s finished water so those have to be protected."

The Environmental Protection Agency, he said, has strict regulations about finished water—that is, water that's already been treated and is ready to go down your gullet—that would prevent public access to the area.

"For the security and integrity of the water system, we would need to keep the fences where they are," he said. "There is a general rule, for finished water, for water that is ready to be drunk, that it be isolated on the surface, because of the potential for even inadvertant damage."

The water that's visible to the public, he explained, has not yet been treated, but the water under the green areas has, and it can't be trampled on by picnickers and kite-flyers.

So there you have it. Looks like the neighborhood will have to make do with whatever park space it can eke out of the sand filtration site.

  • Shilpi

    Thanks for digging into that! Disappointing that the Reservoir greenery is off limits.

    On Wednesday, the Vision McMillan team expressed some frustration with visually representing the size of the park to the community -- what looks like a sliver on a computer screen might actually be substantial in the context of a 25-acre site. 5.5 acres isn't tiny; it's about half the size of Meridian Hill Park, which is 12 acres. Central Park and Prospect Park are many orders of magnitude larger (both are many hundreds of acres).

  • http://www.twitter.com/shipsa01 shipsa01

    Something's not adding up - Seattle was able to do this - and in fact, it made their water system safer. I don't see why DC can't. And I def. think that in this day and age, with our technology and some investment, the following comment of (The Environmental Protection Agency, he said, has strict regulations about finished water—that is, water that's already been treated and is ready to go down your gullet—that would prevent public access to the area) could be overcome. Though I do have to hand it to the guy - it's very much in keeping with all things DC: Say no first and always to anything!

    See the following GGW article:


  • Drez

    I also have to think there must be a way. Army Corps of Engineers simply isn't motivated to try.

  • nearby

    Me and my 2 1/2 year old son go to the reservoir fence all the time. If they just moved the fence in about 10-20 yards that would make it a great place to spend time. The view is great and my son gets to experience ducks, water etc...
    If hundreds of geese shitting and pissing in the water daily doesn't harm the water, then whats the harm in a few potty trained humans nearby.

    Our neighbor in her 90's tells us stories of how they used to spend evenings camped out with the kids on blankets next to the reservoir in the summer time....sounds wonderful.

  • neb

    I also do not believe him, he's close but I don't think what he said is right. In Seattle and other cities they covered the finished water and added park space -- this within the boundaries of the existing Cal Anderson Park that the reservoir was located in. Seattle is doing this for other reservoirs as well. So when he says the eastern portion of the green land area is above finished water I'm not sure the EPA rules would necessarily prevent activity above.

    The other point is that he basically acknowledged that the reservoir itself is not finished water, and that there isn't anything on the Western and Northern side preventing moving the fence. As the above commenter notes, even moving this 20 yards and putting in a nice trail there instead of the narrow sidewalk on 4th street would be great.


  • neb

    see this article for background on parkland over finished reservoir water:

  • Katelyn

    This is total garbage -- that area is completely non-functional. His "this is finished water that needs to be protected" argument isn't supported at all by the fact that there are multiple manhole covers on the plot that are open to the air and have been as long as I've worked at Children's, not to mention all of the geese that wander the grounds during migration season. There's a community preservation society that actually holds tours of the grounds from time to time, and when I have been there, all of the underground chambers are full of DRY sand where the only wet spots are from water leaking in from the poorly-maintained ceiling, above which is the grassy area that you can see in the map. If they make a big fuss about this stuff on the grounds of "water safety", then put condos or some other development on top of it, I am going to blow a freakin' gasket.

  • bloomie

    Katelyn, I think you have these confused. The protected cells referenced are the ones within the actual reservoir grounds on the west side of 1st St, NOT the abandoned water treatment site between 1st/N Cap. That section will be developed (eventually). The question was whether the fenced off, active treatment site east of Howard could be reduced to the reservoir and physical plant, opening the green space for recreational use. It sounds like the entire thing is "active use" underground, though, and thus off limits.

    I wonder about the south end section just north of Bryant. That is a big hill, and from the geography I'm not sure if any storage cells are actually there. Then again it's probably the least attractive part to open up to the public for the same reason.

    I'm still hoping we get more park space on the developed side of 1st. Personal preference would be to have the entire south section north of Channing (whatever percentage that turns out to be) as public space to provide some buffer for the established residential area to the south. Plopping narrow "green space" in the middle of rows of condos and townhouses reduces daylight greatly and the openness that is a primary benefit of the current site.

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  • Mrs. D

    I think neb has given us the most relevant information, and it indicates that turning the top of those covered reservoirs into park space is totally possible. We all need to stand up and shout for this to happen. DC needs more park space, and this is an excellent opportunity to provide it with the simple moving of a fence! If they've satisfied the EPA requirements quoted in neb's article, then there's no reason to fence the space off!