Harford County christened its new $22 million Abingdon Water Treatment Plant Thursday as county officials called it one of their proudest accomplishments of the decade.
"Today is a milestone for Harford County and a celebration for the future," said County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who praised everyone from Department of Public Works employees, who have spent 18 months on the construction project, to the County Council, which approved its financing.
She said the state-of-the-art facility would meet the water needs of the county through at least 2010. As the third and by far the largest water plant in the county, the Abingdon facility can treat up to 10 million gallons of water a day and can be expanded to treat 20 million gallons per day as Harford's population increases.
County water customers currently consume 8 million to 9 million gallons of water daily, according to Jerald Wheeler, deputy director for water and sewer.
Almost as an afterthought, Mrs. Rehrmann added, "The water ban in Harford County is officially lifted now."
The ban actually was a prohibition on automatic sprinkling that had been in effect since 1988. It was enforced only during summer dry spells.
Construction of the Abingdon plant began after the county signed an agreement with Baltimore City in December 1992 to purchase raw water from the city through its Susquehanna pipeline, nicknamed the "Big Inch." The aqueduct, 108 inches in diameter, stretches 38 miles from the Susquehanna River to Lake Montebello in Baltimore, supplying water from the Susquehanna River and Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County.
Harford agreed to pay the city $2.9 million to tap into the Big Inch pipeline, which lies parallel to Interstate 95, to supply the Abingdon plant with up to 20 million gallons of raw water per day. Annual costs of buying the water will range from $50,000 to $200,000. The cost will increase as the county draws more water from the pipeline.
Harford officials have an option to negotiate for an additional 10-million-gallon capacity when the current agreement expires in Harford supplies drinking water to nearly 30,000 commercial, industrial and residential customers, which amounts to about 70,000 to 80,000 individuals, Mr. Wheeler said.
Its chief sources of water have been a series of wells in Perryman, two plants in Havre de Grace that treat water from the Susquehanna and a small well field in the Joppatowne area.
All were nearing capacity when the contract was signed and the county's daily demand for drinking water was growing by 500,000 gallons a year, Mr. Wheeler said.
The Abingdon plant has begun pumping potable water at the rate of 3 million to 4 million gallons per day, Mr. Wheeler said. The Perryman plant is providing 2.5 million to 3 million gallons, and the Havre de Grace plants are providing 1.5 million to 2 million gallons.
He said the county will continue to include the Perryman wells in the system because "it still is our cheapest source and highest quality water. But there's a limit on its quantity."
Any increase in demand will be handled by the new plant, he said, and the Joppatowne wells eventually will be phased out of use.
Construction of the new plant was financed by several bond sales in the early 1990s. Fees charged for new water-sewer hookups are expected to pay the interest on those bonds.
The Abingdon project had been the source of some controversy because of the amount of debt the county incurred at a time when the building boom experienced in the 1980s was beginning to ebb. But controversy was far from the minds of county officials Thursday when they showed off the facility, which sits along Abingdon Road just west of the Interstate 95 overpass.
Public Works Director William T. Baker Jr. praised his staff for bringing the 18-month project to completion on time, noting that "60 days of ice last winter" caused several delays. "This plant will be our future well into the 21st century and beyond," he said.
Barry O'Brien, of the Maryland Department of the Environment, called the plant the most technologically advanced in the state and commended the county for "its foresight in recognizing the need for it years ago and preparing for it."
The plant was designed by Whitman, Requardt and Associates. The general contractor was Pizzagalli Construction Co.
The plant's three-story chemical building, where the raw water is treated, also houses the control room with its computerized equipment for monitoring water treatment and production countywide.
Harford's water system serves more than a third of the TC population, most of it in the heavily populated and fastest-growing area along Routes 24 and 40.
Havre de Grace and Aberdeen each have their own municipal water systems. Bel Air is served by the private Maryland-American Water Co., which treats and distributes water from Winters Run.