Volunteer Park Reservoir a 22 million gallon opportunity

(image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

Visitors to Volunteer Park these days might be disappointed to find one of the green space’s features emptied.

Though we’ve seen the Volunteer Park Reservoir drained before for semi-annual maintenance, the latest dry spell is part of a much bigger project and a harbinger of things to come including a likely eventual decommissioning of the resource from Seattle’s water supply and the creation and restoration of the original vision for the Olmsted-designed park’s southern edge.

(Image: Volunteer Park Trust)

(Image: Volunteer Park Trust)

Someday, you may stroll along a sunset promenade — exactly as John Charles Olmsted intended way back in 1908:

As part of the restoration of core features of John Charles Olmsted’s1908-09 park design, a high priority is to re-landscape degraded areas surrounding the reservoir.  The original design featured an unobstructed axial view from the central concourse west toward the city, Sound and Olympic Mountains. This will again become the “Sunset Promenade” and recapture the experience enjoyed by city residents who took the 15th Avenue trolley uphill to Volunteer Park to hear music in the bandstand, walk around the reservoir, and view the sunset from benches arrayed along its west edge. Like us, they enjoyed panoramas across the great reservoir reflecting pool, unmarred by chain link fence, graffiti, overgrown shrubs and weedy trees. We intend to bring back this magnificent space for the pleasure of today’s park users.

The project championed by the new Volunteer Park Trust organization is in its nascent stages. The group’s Doug Bayley says volunteers are currently spending their time watering areas of landscaping being restored around the reservoir by hand due the park’s limited irrigation system. We told you more about the trust’s work here last year.

By 2014, gardening won’t be enough. Planning will be in full swing for lidding the Volunteer Park Reservoir, a federal requirement if it is to remain a part of the Seattle water system.

[mappress mapid="33"]“A decision will be made in 2015 to cover or permanently decommission Volunteer Reservoir,” a spokesperson for Seattle Public Utilities tells CHS.

“For the next two years,  SPU will study the impact the out-of-service facilities have on Seattle’s overall drinking water system, make evaluations and determine whether Volunteer or Roosevelt Reservoir can be permanently taken out of service,” the spokesperson said.

A similar trial is underway at the Roosevelt Reservoir in the north of the city, one of the four remaining above-ground reservoirs in the city.

Unlike the test at Roosevelt, however, Volunteer Park’s water will return and continue as a “water feature” of the park through the two-year trial and beyond. What shape the reservoir takes after the trial is still to be worked out. You can read more about the trial and the city’s reservoir lidding program here.

Bayley’s group would like to see Volunteer Park’s water feature transformed into a six-inch deep reflecting pool encircled by the promenade. As a historical landmark, the park will have many protections on its side to guarantee a lidding or decommissioning project that maintains the look and spirit of the space — hopefully, Bayley says, without the barbed-wire fence that has been in place to protect the system from being befouled by human contact or worse.

Fed by the far-off Cedar River, Volunteer Park’s place in Seattle’s water system has grown less and less vital. The three-acre reservoir has been serving the city since 1901 but recently has been typically used only for drinking water during peak times in summer. But it is also occasionally more than a back-up. In 2011, northern Capitol Hill’s water was being used to augment the city’s supply while work on the Maple Leaf Reservoir was completed.

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

Even if the decommissioning test somehow shows that the Volunteer Park water source is still needed, the space is destined for a complete overhaul. It’s a moment filled with 22 million gallons of water and opportunity.

With the city making plans to cap Capitol Hill’s Lincoln Reservoir in the early 2000s, a community effort around creating a park as part of the project gave officials something real to work with and a historical base to rehabilitate a green space in the middle of the city. Lincoln was capped in 2003 and, by 2005, topped with Cal Anderson Park as part of a city parks levy project. A similar path could lay ahead for Volunteer Park and the sunset promenade.

“Our plan is a ‘Sunset Promenade,’ like it was in 1912, a broad path with benches and plantings to wander and look at the views and sunset, and feel good about things,” Bayley said.

13 thoughts on “Volunteer Park Reservoir a 22 million gallon opportunity

    • I like it. Do consider the historical context, however, in suggestions. A community hedge maze… in a reflective pool might pass muster.

      CHS (not living within earshot) votes for community swimming pool.

      Might be time to run a CHS poll. More ideas?

  1. I would like to point out that in an emergency, the above-ground reservoir would be the only source providing water pressure to the area (or at least all taps lower than itself).

    • Mirroring my first thought that it’s not bad having a nearby supply of fresh water in the event of catastrophe.

    • In an emergency that warrants using the water there, you could still grab water from lake wa if needed, not that far away and while I wouldn’t drink it unless I had to, I’d drink it if I needed to stay alive after a good long boil.

  2. Lidding is NOT a federal requirement. It’s SPU’s (and the City Council’s) post-9/11 over-reaction to the “threat” of “terrorists” poisoning our water supply.

  3. GREAT article! Gotta save the water feature and reclaim this neglected gem. What a priceless convergence of history, beauty and community! Regardless of whether the reservoir continues to function, we need to speak up loudly on its behalf during SPU planning process ahead.

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