Baltimore was founded in 1729, nearly 50 years before the United States gained its independence. Already a thriving community along the Patapsco River, early settlers and natives sourced their Baltimore drinking water directly from local wells, streams, ponds, and springs.
As Baltimore grew, so too did its need for quality drinking water. In the early 1800s, The Baltimore Water Company set to work on the city’s water infrastructure. The company, which became municipal in 1854, organized its first distribution system and the first reservoir at the corner of Center and Calvert Streets, receiving water from Jones Falls.
The construction of the Lake Roland Dam and Reservoir and the development of mains and conduits further expanded the Jones Falls water supply. Recurring droughts during the 1870s and 1880s led to even larger expansion: The Water Department completed Lake Chapman (now Druid Lake) in 1865, a dam at Gunpowder Falls, as well as the Druid Hill and Loch Raven Reservoirs.
In the early 1900s, mounting public health concerns drove Baltimore to build a filtration plant at Lake Montebello. The plant began chlorinating, which vastly improved Baltimore water quality. However, the original indoor filters, which remain in use, are beginning to show their age.
Today, Baltimore drinking water comes from surface water from rainfall and snowmelt as its water source. This water, approximately 75 billion gallons at available capacity, is collected and stored in the City’s Liberty, Loch Raven, and Prettyboy reservoirs.
According to a recent report on Baltimore water quality, The Department of Public Works complies with EPA standards. However, open reservoirs and water sources, like in many of the country’s earliest cities, are susceptible to contamination, and residents complain of an earthy taste or musty odor in Baltimore tap water.
Also like many older cities, most of Baltimore’s water mains and water infrastructure are cast iron pipes, the industry standard until the mid-1960s. Older cast iron pipes are prone to clusters of corrosion and bacteria along the inside of the pipe. Sometimes these clusters break off and travel with your water to your faucet, resulting in water cloudiness, red water, and off-taste.