Discussion on whether to cover Highland Park Reservoir resurfaces after discovery of body

Highland Park Reservoir

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The conversation about what to do with the Highland Park Reservoir isn’t new.

But it is being raised after the body of Abdullahi Muya was pulled from it last week. Police say he somehow got over the fence and entered the water. The city’s in the process of draining and disinfecting it.

The reservoir, one of three holding the city’s water supply, is uncovered. In 2008, the City of Rochester entered into an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to set milestones to ensure its reservoirs stay in compliance.

It’s taken years to tweak and budget for those benchmarks.

In 2020, the process was delayed after the EPA came out with new rules for preventing lead and copper corrosion in water after the water crisis in Flint, Mich.

But one of the primary treatments for lead in drinking water is orthophosphate, which is good at controlling lead, but is also a fertilizer, according to David Rowley, manager of water production for the City of Rochester Water Bureau. That would promote algae in aquatic plant growth and cause water quality to suffer, he adds.

Just about a month ago, the City of Rochester approved hiring a new consultant to begin the process of addressing solutions for Highland. The options are to cover it, keep the reservoir uncovered, or decommission it.

The City is now working towards a 2029 deadline to address those strict EPA requirements for preventing corrosion and pathogens that occur in the waste of animal. When the time comes, the public will get to weigh in on what happens with the reservoir.

“As part of the bilateral compliance agreement, we’re required to do a lot of additional testing, we report all of that data to the state, county health which in turn gets sent to EPA, on an annual basis, and we send it the county on a monthly basis,” said David Rowley, manager of water production, city of Rochester. “Highland Park is a valuable asset to our community, and any decisions we make about the reservoir, need to consider the impacts to the aethsetic beauty of Highland Park.”

For now, the bureau will keep with current practice.

“We do almost daily, bacterial testing from untreated water in the reservoir to characterize water quality before adding chlorine or anything like that, so that’s a best indicator of quality,” Rowley said.

The City is brainstorming security measures to prevent anyone from bypassing the reservoir’s fence ever again.