A new city study says the reservoir would be vital for emergency purposes, including firefighting, after a catastrophic earthquake.
Hopes that a park or housing will be built anytime soon on the site of Seattle’s Roosevelt reservoir are collapsing because a new study by the city says water should continue to be stored at the site for emergency purposes in the event of a catastrophic earthquake.
The uncovered reservoir – near Roosevelt High School, the Roosevelt light-rail station scheduled to open in 2021 and a cluster of new apartment buildings – has for years been under consideration for decommissioning and therefore has been eyed as a potential site for a park, housing or both. It covers about three square blocks.
But Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) recently refilled the reservoir and now plans to use the site for the foreseeable future, spokeswoman Ingrid Goodwin said.
“SPU has determined Roosevelt reservoir to be a critical emergency water resource for Seattle customers,” the utility said in an October message to interested parties. “In the event of a major earthquake, the reservoir could be a vital source for emergency water and firefighting purposes.”
Housing cannot be built above active reservoirs and although parks have been added above several lidded SPU reservoirs, including nearby Maple Leaf, such projects are costly, Goodwin said. The Roosevelt reservoir does not need to be covered and SPU has no such plans in the near term, she said.
“It’s a setback” for park and housing boosters, though quake precautions may be more important, said Scott Cooper, Roosevelt Neighborhood Association president.
In 2014, the Ravenna-Bryant Community Association called for a park at the Roosevelt reservoir site and local residents drew up a plan for athletic fields, ice hockey rinks, swimming pools and apartments.
“People kind of let their minds wander, over the years, about what (the site) could become” and how its redevelopment could improve an area becoming much denser in preparation for the arrival of light rail, Cooper said. “There was a lot of excitement about the potential.”
Laura Loe Bernstein, an organizer with Share the Cities, said her group viewed the Roosevelt reservoir as a prime location to add housing along light rail in North Seattle without displacing any existing residents. Now that SPU has again laid claim to the property, Bernstein’s group will concentrate on conversations about redeveloping the Jackson Park Golf Course, she said.
“I’m disappointed about this, but people should be looking at other locations,” she said.
Spurred by changes in water-quality regulations, SPU lidded its Magnolia, Lincoln, Myrtle, Beacon, West Seattle and Maple Leaf reservoirs between 1995 and 2010, and the city built parks on all but the West Seattle site.
The utility’s Riverton, Eastside and View Ridge reservoirs were covered from the start, and its Bitter Lake and Lake Forest Park reservoirs now have floating covers, leaving only Roosevelt and Volunteer Park reservoirs open to the air.
A 1990 earthquake study and a subsequent analysis determined the utility didn’t need the Roosevelt and Volunteer reservoirs and could save money by decommissioning them, so SPU disconnected them on a trial basis in 2012 and drained the Roosevelt reservoir. The Volunteer reservoir is at historic Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill and wasn’t drained for the trial period.
The new earthquake study reassessed SPU’s emergency-water needs, partly by looking at storage available to other West Coast utilities.
Even with the Roosevelt and Volunteer reservoirs, SPU has enough emergency storage to last 2.8 days, according to the study. Tacoma has enough to last 3.9 days, Portland 4.3 days and San Francisco 5 days.
“Additional storage is needed,” a summary of the study said. “Roosevelt and Volunteer reservoirs should remain part of SPU’s drinking-water system.”
Because the Roosevelt and Volunteer reservoirs are uncovered, their water is considered non-potable.
They can hold water for emergency purposes now and be covered later, the study said.
“Minimal investments” will be needed to use the Roosevelt and Volunteer reservoirs for emergency storage, Goodwin said. “In contrast, significant capital dollars would be required to cover those reservoirs,” she said.
The Roosevelt reservoir can provide 50 million gallons of emergency water to an area that includes Children’s Hospital, said Alex Chen, SPU’s water-planning director. The reservoir at Volunteer Park can provide 20 million gallons to an area that includes hospitals on First Hill.
City Councilmember Rob Johnson acknowledged SPU’s decision as a setback for park and housing advocates. But he said he still hopes the Roosevelt reservoir could be lidded someday. A park could be built on the land directly above the reservoir and housing could be built on the perimeter, he suggested. A small park called Froula Playground already occupies the land directly south.
“Maybe we can have some passive use there,” Johnson said. “That reservoir is giant and taking down the fences would be good.”