Pausing to marvel at local wonders

From water to crime, wonders never cease

December 13, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Please note: A gunman killed eight shoppers then himself in a mall in Omaha, Neb., on Dec. 5, but no one killed anyone in Baltimore that day. In fact, we went five days without a shooting in Baltimore, from the evening of Dec. 2 until the afternoon of Dec. 7. There were no homicides from Dec. 4 through Dec. 10.

Excuse me while I find this remarkable.

It's remarkable because recent Decembers have been particularly bloody, as if there were a macabre rush to raise the violent crime numbers before the end of the year. Through noon yesterday, three people had been killed in Baltimore in December, compared with nine in the corresponding period of 2006.

Nonfatal shootings are down, too.

By mid-July, the city's count of nonfatal shootings was 131 ahead of the same period of last year. As of yesterday, 2007 nonfatals were still ahead of the 2006 count, but only by 18.

FOR THE RECORD - A passage in Dan Rodricks' column in yesterday's editions of The Sun was garbled. It should have read:
"I'm encouraged," says Fred Bealefeld, who was named the city's 36th police commissioner in summer. Bealefeld noted that another cease-fire of six days had occurred in late September and early October.
"We all know what the reality is," he says. "You don't make too much of the high times just as you don't make too much of the low times. You stay focused on your objectives, and hope this is the start of a trend."
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

The city's 2007 homicide count by yesterday was 271 - still 15 ahead of 2006. But the pace of homicides has fallen off this fall. If the trend in Baltimore's relatively peaceful December continues, we won't hit 300 homicides for the year. That mark has not been reached since 1999 and by early summer it appeared that we would.

The overall rate of violent crime is down for the third year in a row, according to Sterling Clifford, City Hall spokesman.

"I'm encouraged," says Fred Bealefeld, who was named the city's 36th police commissioner in summer. Bealefeld noted that another cease-fire of six days had occurred in late September and early October.

make too much of the high times just as you don't make too much of the low times. You stay "W we all know what the reality is," he says. "You don't focused on your objectives, and hope this is the start of a trend."

As do we all.

A mighty backup

Pardon me while I appreciate something that has been pretty much out of sight and out of mind, literally buried, for more than 40 years: The Susquehanna Pipeline. Most of the 1.8 million consumers of fresh water from the Baltimore system probably don't know this but, when it needs to, the city can tap water out of the mighty Susquehanna River, way up at the Cecil-Harford counties line, and send it to the Montebello filtration plant on the northeast side of town.

That's a 38-mile drip, baby.

Stop and think about that for a minute.

Allow yourself one of those awed-by-engineering moments.

Pretend we're having a Discovery Channel thing in the column today: "Baltimore's Plan B: The Susquehanna Pipeline."

Why "Plan B"?

Because Baltimore has an ingenious Plan A for water - Liberty, Loch Raven and Prettyboy reservoirs - and the city only goes to Plan B, the Susquehanna, when the metropolitan area needs more. The Susquehanna is our backup. It's going to be tapped starting next week, the first time in five years, because the reservoirs are low.

Excuse me, but I find all this stuff kind of remarkable.

You ever drive from Baltimore to the Conowingo Dam? What's that take you? Close to an hour in good traffic?

Somewhere above Conowingo, about a quarter-mile upstream, the city takes water from the river and sends it to a pumping station on nearby Deer Creek. The pumping station sends the water through a tunnel to a high point three miles away. The high point is 214 feet above sea level. From there, the water flows down to Baltimore.

It travels about 35 more miles, underground, through a system that took five years to build at a cost of $35 million, which is - what? - something like A-Rod's annual salary now?

And check this out: The water tunnel is 12 feet wide; you can drive a Jeep through it, and somebody once did. This tunnel runs 12,000 feet. You got that?

After 12,000 feet, the 12-foot tunnel narrows to a mere nine feet wide. Then the 9-foot tunnel connects to a 9-foot pipe and the 9-footer runs for 150,000 feet, down through Harford County and into Baltimore County, along the I-95 corridor somewhere. The 9-foot pipe narrows to an 8-footer for the last 37,490 feet of the line. It ends up at the Montebello filtration plant, and from there it becomes part of Baltimore's water supply.

Amazing.

Starting in 1958, men went down into the ground to build this thing. They finished in January 1966. Mayor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin went out to the Deer Creek pumping station and threw the switch. In the years since, the city only used the Susquehanna Pipeline when necessary to support its primary system.

So Baltimore was blessed with forward-thinking planners - engineers and public health officials who got all this lined up long before most of us were here. They created a sustainable supply of water by harnessing natural resources through massive public works projects.

But, while formidable, what that generation did was easy compared with what ours and the next are asked to do: Conserve and protect our freshwater supply as the population grows, the climate warms and our planet becomes stressed. Compared to the challenges we face in the immediate future, the construction of a 38-mile water pipeline was a snap. It's one thing to tap into an abundant resource and use it like there's no tomorrow. It's another to treat it as if there is.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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