Some of the northwest Bronx’s older residents might remember days when all that kept people away from the Jerome Park Reservoir was a three-foot fence around its outer edge.
Those a bit younger may even remember the 1980s when some teenagers went for a swim in the massive 130-acre artificial basin that holds much of New York City’s water supply, and were injured. That’s when Karen Argenti’s mother wrote to the city environmental department asking them to add another fence, all to keep kids out of the water.
The good old days.
But in 2004, when the city completed construction on the Croton water filtration plant, the DEP did more than simply build a fence to keep out adventurous adolescents — any and all public access to the site was halted.
In a post-9/11 world, the city told residents and activists, allowing people access to the reservoir — and the plant by extension — posed too much of a security risk.
But advocates of public access have never really given that argument much of a leg to stand on. Especially since most buildings that already existed along or near the reservoir have direct views of the filtration plant.
“It’s definitely not a security issue,” Argenti said. “They just don’t want people coming into their reservoir.”
The DEP, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment, has consistently maintained if someone were able to contaminate the water in the Jerome Park Reservoir, the results would be catastrophic.
The phrase “30 minutes from your tap,” has been thrown around a lot, according to residents on Sedgwick Avenue, but seldom verified.
The issue remains that the Jerome Park Reservoir is an open-air reservoir, already susceptible to the various animals and natural contaminants that come along with leaving millions of gallons of water uncovered in the Bronx.
One point some public advocates have raised is that when the Croton plant was built, it planned for chemical treatment, which focuses on the use of chemicals to keep the water clean, instead of the more modern membrane filtration system used in today’s filtration plants. A membrane filtration system focuses less on using sometimes-unreliable chemicals and more on keeping a barrier between the main water basin and the water pumps that go “30 minutes to your tap.”
That barrier keep particles out based on size, according to the University of Minnesota, and tends to be more effective at keeping out contaminants.
But whatever the DEP’s reasons for keeping the reservoir closed to the public, they don’t seem ready to budge, except this coming weekend. That’s when the reservoir opens as part of Bronx Week on May 21 and May 22.
But some advocates, like Argenti, aren’t even happy with that. In years past, Argenti said, visitors have had to check their phones, wallets, and even baby carriages at the door, and were met by armed guards.
“It’s a remarkable experience, and they have turned it into some weird military thing with guns and dogs,” she said, “When you can’t go in with a camera, when you can’t go in with your pocketbook, when you can’t bring a baby carriage … that’s not access.”
For Argenti, that sort of chaperoned access may as well not be access at all. Even if she decides to participate in the Bronx Week festivities on the reservoir, she would choose the view from behind one of the two massive fences that block it off on Sedgwick Avenue.
Except that area is a mess, too.
“In my opinion it is more important to have a place to enjoy than it is to get inside,” Argenti said. “They’re very bad neighbors.”