Although it's difficult to believe, Harford County is running out of drinking water, and it's beginning to affect our wildlife.
Granted, this isn't something that's going to take place during the next couple of years. It's a slow process that, without strict conservation measures, gradually will affect every county resident early in the next century.
We're consuming our under-ground water supply at a slightly higher rate than it's being replenished. If the consumption rate increases by a small margin, the impact on the county's overall environmental health could be devastating.
Long Branch. a small. spring-fed tributary of Winters Run. originates in a marshy area adjacent to one of Harford's newest housing developments.
Just two decades ago. the stream's small pools held concentrations of brook trout, fingerling-sized smallmouth bass, sunfish, white sucker, a host of tiny minnows, helgramites; crawfish and large patches of watercress. Although it still flows through the wooded valley behind my home, the volume of clear, cold water decreased substantially during the past decade.
The stream's decreased water flow isn't a result of last summer's drought. In fact, the volume of this stream and every tributary to the Chesapeake has been diminishing for more than a century. As the bay's fresh water sources dry up, the estuary's water quality and food supply decreases.
Fortunately, the trend isn't irreversible. Average citizens can restore the water flow to Long Branch, Winters Run and the Susquehanna River. The road to recovery begins in the confines of your own home. Each family in Harford County consumes an average of 250 gallons of water daily. Eleven million gallons of water are drawn from underground sources.
Depending on where you live, this water could have entered the ground as a rain storm that took place while man still was living in caves. Some areas of the nation enjoy drinking water deposited during the last ice age. However, the underground water supply is anything but endless.
"We are currently operating in equilibrium. This means we're pumping water out of the ground at the same rate it's flowing in," said Jerald Wheeler, deputy director of the water and sewer division of the county Department of Public Works.
Wheeler said the county is preparing to add new sources of water, but instead of relying on aquifers, a substantial volume will be obtained from the Susquehanna River.
"We have a water-treatment plant at Havre de Grace, and another plant is being installed near Conowingo Dam," Wheeler said.
"This plant will initially be capable of processing 10 million gallons per day, but will be expandable to 20 million gallons. Our long-range goal is to support the county's growth with surface water.
"The key to the future depends on several water-conservation and management programs, including storm-water management, restoration and protection of wetlands, and strict conservation of our current underground water supply.
"We now have a standing law that prohibits all outdoor use of water unless it's a hand-held activity. If you're washing your car with a hose or watering your flowers by hand, that's fine. But, you can't just turn on the sprinkler and let the water run."
Al Frank works for the state Department of Natural Resource's Water Resources Administration and also heads the Aberdeen Water Conservation Program.
Frank said in one of Aberdeen's older subdivisions, water-saving devices were installed during a pilot program, producing dramatic reductions in overall consumption. Frank said all new homes in the county will be required to install the 1.5-gallon toilets - a substantial reduction from the 7-gallon models used just five years ago.
How water conservation will affect the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay isn't complex.
A significant decrease in our consumption of underground water allows the aquifer to recharge to historic levels. This eventually will raise the water table closer to the surface. As the level rises, it produces a chain reaction of events that are beyond your wildest dreams.
Springs once again will emerge. adding clean, clear, cool water to creeks, streams and rivers. Clean. clear, fast-flowing water allows aquatic vegetation to thrive, producing habitat for a host of aquatic insects and larvae. These tiny organisms are a vital link in the food chain, responsible for the survival of many species of fish.
The result is clear streams and rivers and a healthier Chesapeake Bay.
I have an ulterior motive for pointing out the benefits of water conservation. Long Branch, the stream that flows through my property, used to be a great place to go fishing. I'm getting a little too old to hike down the steep hill and enjoy the serenity of the stream, but I'm hoping my grandchildren will have the opportunity to catch a fish or two from its deeper pools.
For additional information about water conservation. contact Jackie Ludwick, Harford County Department of Public Works, Bel Air, MD. 21014.