County officials had expected obstacles to gaining state and federalapprovals for a South Carroll reservoir, but last year they found out it would be almost impossible, at least in the short term.
The disappointing discovery puts nearly 20 years of planning and land acquisition for the Gillis Falls Reservoir in jeopardy and leaves residents in the Mount Airy area with no reliable water source to count on for the future.
Last summer, the county commissioners met with top state environmental officials in Annapolis and federal administrators with the Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Philadelphia to try to find a way to overcome the obstacles. They left each meeting with little encouragement and few answers.
In late August, they informed the Gillis Falls Reservoir Citizens Committee in Mount Airy that the project essentially has been shelved, an action preferable to rejection by state or federal agencies. However, the applications have yetto be withdrawn, said Commissioner President Donald I. Dell.
The commissioners and planners say the project could be revived in time, as environmental rules evolve and politics change.
The project is in jeopardy because of its potentially damaging effects on wetlands, which act as natural filters of pollutants, and on a stream that is classified as a natural habitat for trout reproduction.
Since 1973,the county has spent $3.6 million to acquire 1,086 acres for the planned 430-acre reservoir, which also includes land for recreation and buffers. The county plans to purchase a total of 1,200 to 1,300 acres.
Even though prospects for the project look dim at present, the commissioners last fall approved a 65-acre purchase for $750,000. Theysay they plan to buy all the land necessary and pursue the required permits later.
A private consultant recommended creating the reservoir as the most efficient and desirable way to provide water to South Carroll residents to the year 2040 and beyond. A reservoir downstream from the confluence of Gillis Falls and Middle Run -- a project estimated at about $30 million -- is preferable to expanding a ground-water system or purchasing water from other jurisdictions, the consultant said.
The consultant projected that water demands in Mount Airy soon would outstrip supplies.