Water for Harford's future

December 09, 1992

Water from the Susquehanna River will slake Harford County's expected thirst well into the next century under a long-awaited accord reached last week by the county and Baltimore City.

The so-called Big Inch agreement will provide 20 million gallons a day (MGD), or three times as much water as Harford now uses, to meet expansion needs and a water shortage projected for 1994. The county will build a $15 million treatment plant near Abingdon for use by 1994.

The water actually supplied by the city to the county will be

drawn from the Loch Raven Reservoir, not from the Susquehanna Pipeline, because gravity-flow from the reservoir is half as costly as pumping water from the pipeline. The pipeline will serve as the county's reservoir, used only when Loch Raven levels are low.

For nearly three decades, Harford has had the right to draw water from the city's Susquehanna Pipeline. But the county wells in Perryman and the Havre de Grace treatment plant (plus spot purchases from Aberdeen Proving Ground) have provided ample water for Harford's burgeoning population and its expanding commercial base.

But the continued quality of the Perryman wells has come into question, and the expense of laying distribution pipes from Havre de Grace to the expanding Bel Air area that needs water would be prohibitive, county officials say. The Big Inch agreement allows the county to reduce supplies from both those sources.

The dramatic increase in water supply now may raise some eyebrows. But County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann insists that this is the time to secure Harford's future for water needs. The agreement will also allow Aberdeen and Bel Air to address the growing needs of their own municipal systems.

The county will benefit from economies of scale, and county water-sewer connection fees will pay the bill for these capital costs. Water bills won't be raised to pay for these facilities. And the new treatment plant will be built in stages, to spread costs into the future.

The city will also benefit from the agreement, with $3 million to help improve its system that also supplies water for parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties. The city won't miss the 10 million gallons a day that Harford will begin taking in two years, or even the 30 million gallons that the county can take if it exercises an option before 2010. That is the kind of phased-in, future-looking accord that should benefit both jurisdictions.

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