McMillan Reservoir, in Washington D.C., “is one of the largest undeveloped tracts in a capital invaded by convoys of construction cranes.”
Why is it undeveloped?
“The reason lies beneath the grass.”

[Image: “The arches that form the catacombs beneath the McMillan Reservoir were crafted from unreinforced concrete, which means they couldn’t support construction above them.” Photo by Robert Reeder for the Washington Post].

“Below ground,” we read, “are 22 massive catacombs built from concrete that formed the city’s main water filtration system at the turn of the last century. Potomac River water, fresh from Great Falls, arrived at the plant and was filtered through underground cells lined with sand dumped by mule-drawn wagons. Clean water emerged and was piped into homes across the city, including the White House.”
Now, however, these catacombs once dedicated to purity and filtration lie derelict and half-collapsed upon themselves in the soil – and are so otherwise useless that they’ve been proposed as a possible home for a new monument to dogs killed in wartime.
“Passersby don’t know what to make of the property in its current state. It looks like flat farmland, studded by 20 brick silos that once stored sand for the filtration. Several old pump houses, the glass long blown out of their windows, sit silently. Some of the catacombs have collapsed, but others give a sense of a great subterranean world, where shafts of daylight stream down from manholes in the grass above and cast ribbons of white on sand that still lines the floor. In the quiet, one can imagine the sound of water lapping against the concrete columns that support the catacomb and form archways every 12 feet.”

(With a much-belated thanks to John Sands for the tip! Earlier: Walking over a valve chamber outside the Brooklyn Academy of Music).

2 thoughts on “Cistern”

  1. So basically: A sustainable water filtration system exists in the middle of an urban area, and no one wants to use it to filter water.

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