Triadelphia Reservoir has roots in functionality but a host of unique features

Source of water can be source of fun


Triadelphia Reservoir can be a source of fun on the water, from kayaking to fishing, but those who want to enjoy themselves on land nearby have plenty of opportunities, too.

"It's a respite from the humdrum of daily living in the suburbs," said Al Richardson, acting director of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which owns the reservoir.

"You can fish, you can picnic, you can hike. There's a host of watershed opportunities in the area," Richardson said.

Fishing is common on the reservoir. Those at least 16 years of age can do it with a fishing license from the state and a special permit from the sanitary commission. There's a $30 yearly charge for fishing or boating.

Wildlife habitat

A mix of animals make their homes around the reservoir. It's not uncommon to see rabbits, deer, foxes, cardinals, geese or eagles - along with a large variety of fish.

There's also a well-known area of azalea plants on the Montgomery County side.

Richardson said that about 22,000 azalea plants bloom in early to mid-June. A security guard named Paul Hancock quietly planted a bunch of azaleas in 1949, and they quickly became popular.

The bushes, some of which grow up to 8 feet tall, remain a big attraction, especially around Mother's Day.

"The profusion of them is just amazing," Richardson said. "It's a place to take your camera."

Richardson also said that the areas around the water can stay open throughout the year, unless weather problems force sanitary commission officials to close the reservoir down.

The sanitary commission is the water company for Prince George's and Montgomery counties, and it controls the reservoir.

"It is part of our water supply," said Bob Beringer, chief of the bureau of utilities for Howard County. "It also maintains a groundwater level in the area that it influences."

Beringer also said that the reservoir becomes a bank, or supplier of water, for the environment immediately surrounding it.

14 billion gallons

The sanitary commission also owns the Rocky Gorge and Little Seneca reservoirs.

The three combined can hold up to 14 billion gallons of untreated water. But the Rocky Gorge and Triadelphia reservoirs are the only ones affecting Howard County.

The Triadelphia Reservoir covers about 800 acres and is 65 feet deep at its deepest point.

The reservoir has a capacity of 6.4 billion gallons and usually has about 5.6 billion on a regular basis.

The reservoir is formed by damming the Patuxent River, between Route 97 and Brighton Dam Road. There's a roadway over Brighton Dam that Howard and Montgomery counties maintain; the river helps divide the counties.

There's also a small town underneath the reservoir - Triadelphia, once a mill town that was a leading industrial center in the state.

Richardson said that tops of the buildings in that town can be seen when water levels go down in the reservoir.

The watershed was acquired by the sanitary commission in the early 1940s, when Brighton Dam was built.

The watershed project was completed about 1943.

German prisoners of war played a large part in the construction of the dam.

The dam is about 60 feet tall.

Some renovation work on the dam is expected to take place soon.

Beringer said that dams are put in place to help with drinking water in the area.

"When it rains in a river [in Maryland], it all goes down and ends up in the Chesapeake Bay," Beringer said. "If you put a dam on that river, then you store that water during the rainstorms that otherwise would wash out to the Chesapeake Bay."

Beringer pointed out that Maryland doesn't have any natural lakes, so reservoirs are a part of the solution for providing water.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission now is 88 years old. Triadelphia was the first reservoir the company created.

After that came the T. Howard Duckett Dam and Rocky Gorge Reservoir in 1952, which brought the water supply closer to the company's plant.

The Little Seneca Creek Dam and Reservoir were finished in 1985.

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