Silas Mason’s Role
When Silas Mason was purchasing the forest land around Berea College, water was a big factor. The land he bought was mostly uphill from the College, and his idea was that the water found there could be gravity fed down to the school. This began happening in 1905, and the first reservoir was built in 1920.
Mason coupled forest management with watershed management. In The College Forest Preserve, he wrote:
“The power of the soil to absorb the rain as it falls, arresting and holding and turning it into the soil and through the porous rocks to be delivered during the dry portions of the year through the springs and streams, depends almost wholly upon the forest floor of humus and decaying materials.
With the portion of our lands… within the watershed area, this is of double importance, as the supply of spring water for our system is dependent upon the percolations of rain fall through the forest soil into the ground, through the porous sandstone, capping the upper hills, which forms reservoirs of a thousand times the capacity of our ten little reservoirs connected with the pipeline…”
Berea’s Water Today
The Berea College Forest’s watersheds supply the public water for the city and College. There are four reservoirs, a water treatment plant, and two water towers through which around 1 billion gallons of water flow each year.The four reservoirs are Owsley Fork Reservoir, Cowbell Reservoir, Kale Lake, and B-Lake.
Berea is unique and fortunate in that not many places in the United States can you find privately owned watersheds used for public water. This means that the water can be more carefully managed for things like purity.
Another unique aspect about this water system is that it is untouched water. Bereans are first time users of this water, since it comes from the reservoirs that get refilled by rain instead of from the Kentucky River, which many cities take from and put their used water back into.