More than a week after a fire damaged the Cromwell pumping station in Parkville, officials are continuing to ask residents in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties to restrict their water use.
The Baltimore Department of Public Works said in a news release after the fire that the loss of the pump added “strain to the entire system,” but it did not elaborate.
What makes this particular pumping station so important to the region’s water system?
Tim Wolfe, chief of the office of engineering and construction at DPW, said gravity causes water to flow downhill and a pumping station’s job is to move water from low elevations to high elevations. One of the areas served by the station, Cockeysville, is 700 feet above the Inner Harbor, he said.
There are 18 pumping stations throughout the city and surrounding counties, he said, and with the temporary loss of Cromwell, the number is down to 17.
Cromwell, specifically, pumps water from a filtration plant in East Baltimore to the northeastern portion of the city, along with Towson, Hunt Valley, Cockeysville, Timonium and Sparks, Wolfe said. Cromwell is supplemented by other pumping stations, he said.
But the fire, which happened on the morning of July 13, “heavily damaged” equipment inside the station, including two pumps, DPW said in a news release. It caused the station to lose power for three days.
After Cromwell was damaged, the water system had to be reconfigured to maintain water pressure to buildings and have enough available water for firefighters in the region, Wolfe said.
That can mean running a certain pump for a longer time, operating pumps at different rates and opening valves that redistribute water to different places than it would normally go.
As of Friday, Wolfe said, the city has maintained the water system in this way so that it is operating within typical ranges. But the system isn’t in “optimum condition,” as it would be if all the pump stations were running, he said. That’s why officials are asking residents who receive water from the system to help.
The city has also made changes to the piping system to maintain the supply of water because of a sinkhole at the Montebello treatment plant, Wolfe said. Workers needed to fix a storm drain at the site and had to take an 84-inch line out of service and put in a bypass, which directs water elsewhere. So, he said, “With that condition, and this condition, we felt it was best to do voluntary restrictions.”
People often use more water in the summer and the city is asking people to help maintain the water system by cutting down on their water use, according to Wolfe.
At a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Brandon Scott said, “The water system is operating normally, and there is absolutely no effect on the quality of our water.”
The restrictions, he said, are “to ensure that the system is not overstrained” while repairs are made.
People do not need to limit their use of water for drinking, cooking or cleaning. Instead, the city asks residents to avoid watering lawns, washing cars, prewashing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, and letting the faucet flow when brushing their teeth or shaving.
On Thursday, DPW said repairs are moving forward as scheduled. Power was restored July 16, and the station will “resume partial operations in the coming weeks,” the agency said. The voluntary water restriction notice will be reevaluated at that time.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Wolfe said workers have pulled the large motors on the pumps out and are taking them apart and assessing them. They are also assessing the condition of other equipment in the station.
“We’re feeling confident we’re going to get the station back up relatively soon, in a matter of weeks,” Wolfe said. “So we’re feeling optimistic.”