Ground water is topic of satellite conference

May 05, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

The Faulkner Ridge Center in Columbia became an off ramp on the information superhighway yesterday, as regulators, developers and environmental activists from across Central Maryland conferred by satellite with their counterparts from around the country.

The National Town Meeting on ground water protection was sponsored by the League of Women Voters with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It included more than 7,000 participants at 140 centers, from Long Island to Hawaii.

The program featured a panel in Washington, D.C., that included Robert Perciasepe, a former Maryland environment secretary who recently was named assistant administrator for water at the EPA, and experts on ground water and activists.

The panelists, whose images flickered across three television screens at Faulkner Ridge Center, fielded questions from around the nation on such topics as using separate systems for drinking water and the wisdom of building landfills below the water table.

Looking on locally was an audience of about 60 people, including many regulators from state agencies and officials from Howard, Carroll, Montgomery, Frederick, Prince George's and Washington counties.

L. Scott Muller, a Marriottsville resident, was hoping to learn how landfills, such as the county's Alpha Ridge facility in Marriottsville, can pollute ground water.

"One of the critical things they said today is that it's cheaper to prevent contamination than it is to clean it up," said Mr. Muller, who helped lead a citizen effort in 1991 that prevented the expansion of the landfill in Marriottsville.

The Carrs Mill landfill in Woodbine and Alpha Ridge are surrounded by homes that get their drinking water from the ground.

One of the panelists, Susana Almanza, a Texas ground-water activist, told of fighting successfully to have a petrochemical tank farm moved away from a residential neighborhood in Austin.

She said local officials were shocked to learn that residents of the predominantly Hispanic and black neighborhood were drinking water contaminated by gasoline and other fuels that had leaked from the nearby storage depot. Her group discovered that one tank had spilled 12,000 gallons of fuel.

Carroll County residents also are concerned about their ground water, said Cherie Jenkins of that county's chapter of the League of Women Voters.

"Because of quarries, there is a lot of concern in Carroll County about ground water protection," she said.

Cathy Rappa of the county's water authority said the county has been working for a decade on a program to protect wellheads, which is aimed at reducing pollution near county ground water supplies.

One of the things Howard County residents might have learned is that even though most county residents are served by public water pumped in from Baltimore, there is still reason to be concerned about ground water.

"We don't have our own reserves in Howard County," said Mr. Muller, who noted that only the western part of the county uses ground water.

He fears that supplies from Baltimore will not keep up with Howard County's growth and that more of the county eventually could be forced to tap ground water.

State Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Montgomery County Republican, commended the League of Women Voters for putting on the conference, saying it gave local and state officials a chance to "find out what Washington has in mind."

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