The city Parks Department shored up plans to breach the three basins within the Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park this summer, which drew vehement criticism from some area residents who argued it would disrupt wildlife in the region.
Gary Giordano, district manager for Community Board 5, said the city needed to come up with a proposal that would allow its three basins to handle an excessive amount of rainfall. The plans included a breach between each of the reservoir’s three basins to allow excess water to escape into the streets if they were to overflow.
The Parks Department said the basins were drained decades ago and have since become attractions for forest life, native plants and wetlands.
“Parks informed us that they are supposed to start working to do this work by the end of August,” Giordano said. “There are some members of the Parks Committee who believe this isn’t really necessary or realistic. Have we ever had a rain even close to what could cause water to accumulate in those basins to that extent?”
The breaches, Giordano said, were designed to act as a somewhat worst-case scenario insurance policy to prevent the area from overflowing with water.
“A dam breach is the preferred and recommended alternative for permanently reducing the hazard potential of the Ridgewood Reservoir Dam,” the Parks Department said in a statement. “The objective of the breach is to allow free discharge of water through the embankments to mitigate potential for impounding significant volume of water above the toe of the dam, thereby reducing the hazard potential.”
A blog entitled, “Save Ridgewood Reservoir” called the basin breaking a “final blow” to the reservoir, and the end of unique habitats within the area. Part of the renovation plans included a gravel road sized at 11 feet by 14 feet in the third basin, which Giordano said was on some board members’ radar.
“There have been some concerns about trucks going in there,” he said. “The gravel road might force them to have to remove some plant species – both non-invasive and invasive. Some think you could remove the invasive species without having to build this big road.”
The Save Ridgewood Reservoir blog used stronger language to describe the gravel roads.
“This would permit parks to drive their large maintenance vehicles into the wetland and forested habitats to clear them for eventual development, something they’ve been trying to cram down the throats of the surrounding communities for the past seven years,” the blog wrote in a March 16 post.
The 62-acre reservoir provided water for Brooklyn residents from 1858 to 1959 and was decommissioned in 1990 before evolving into wetlands, meadows and forests. Giordano said roughly 85 percent of the large reservoir resided within the borough of Queens. The city just recently completed $6.92 million worth of work at the site and nearby Highland Park installing new fencing around the perimeter, new lighting, resurfacing its pathway and installing handicapped access.
City officials celebrated a ribbon cutting at the Ridgewood Reservoir in October to mark what they said would become a nature-lover’s paradise to come. Community Board 5 has consistently spoken in favor of renovating the reservoir, which used to provide drinking water to Brooklyn, as a nature-centric attraction.
“We are on record to wanting it to be the closest thing we have to a nature preserve anywhere near here,” Giordano said. “When you’re there, you would think you’re somewhere upstate.”
By Phil Corso