Reservoir system designated landmark

Innovative setup uses channels, a tunnel, basin and dam to divert polluted water

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico speaks during a ceremony Monday at the Horseshoe Curve where the Altoona reservoir complex was designated a North American Water Landmark by the American Water Works Association.

Several times Monday, when officials spoke at a ceremony at the Horseshoe Curve, a train would interrupt — mixing the wail of its horn and the squeal of its wheels with the talk about a newly conferred designation for the three reservoirs enfolded by the Curve: North American Water Landmark.

The interruptions were fitting, as the histories of the Curve and the railroad that created it are interlaced with the reservoirs and the city that created them.

In the decades following the mid-1800s, the Curve was created by the railroad that created the city that created the reservoirs that made it possible for both city and railroad to operate here — where there wasn’t a major river to provide water for the railroad’s thirsty shops and the city’s increasingly numerous inhabitants.

The innovative — and critical — feature that earned the complex the landmark designation is a series of channels, a tunnel, a settling basin, a dam and intakes that enable workers to divert contaminated water from the reservoirs’ environmentally compromised watershed, while admitting clean water.

The setup was devised by Charles Knight of Rome, N.Y., in three successive projects, one for each of the reservoirs.

“Very much like a Roman aqueduct,” said Mark Glenn, president of Gwin Dobson & Foreman, the Altoona Water Authority’s consulting engineer — and the author of the application that led to the landmark award.

Locating a big industrial site in a headwaters area where the streams are small was initially “improbable,” Glenn told an audience of authority, city, county and other officials.

Yet the Altoona Water Authority’s system — which now includes 12 reservoirs but with the three at the Curve at its heart — is often touted locally as nearly drought-proof.

The diversion system was critical because it enabled workers to keep out the constant flow of water polluted with acid mine drainage, as well as water polluted with sediment that ran off logged areas after storms.

With the award, the reservoir complex becomes only the third water landmark in Pennsylvania.

“It’s so much more than a scenic backdrop to the Horseshoe Curve,” Glenn said.

The water it provides is too easy to take for granted when we turn on the faucet, said Blair County Commissioner Bruce Erb.

At the ceremony, attendees watched a video that tells the story of the creation of the system. It’s available at the following website:

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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