Stream rebuilt to cool water County hopes work will halt residents' suit

August 17, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The geometry of meanders has replaced the straight-line concrete chute that once confined the waters of Piney Run where it flows past the Hampstead Wastewater Treatment Plant at the Baltimore County line.

Construction crews ripped out the concrete several months ago. Now they're building a streambed -- trying to mimic nature's own mathematical formulas for the proper shape of dips and bends, according to a design by James W. Gracie, chairman of Brightwater Inc. Environmental Consulting of Ellicott City.

His zigzags and stepped pools, along with other measures at the plant, should cool and slow down the water before it enters the neighboring county.

Carroll County officials hope their actions will have the same effect upon residents there, who pursued legal action against the state after it increased the plant's permitted capacity.

"We just finished," said Carroll County's director of public works, J. Michael Evans, who led a tour of the project Thursday. "The concrete flume is gone, and the meandering stream was built that just about doubles the distance to Baltimore County."

The Piney Run Preservation Association is challenging the permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment authorizing the county plant go to its full 900,000-gallon-a-day capacity to serve the Hampstead area, Evans said. Its capacity has been increased in increments since 1990 and was nearing the previously allowed 700,000-gallon limit.

Piney Run flows into Western Run and then to the Gunpowder watershed, which contains trout streams and supplies the drinking water for about 1.5 million residents of metropolitan Baltimore.

The residents have fought that permit through the administrative process and into Baltimore County Circuit Court, where a judge ruled last fall that they had not proved the increased discharge raised water temperatures to a level that would threaten fish.

Their attorney, G. Macy Nelson, said that the case has been argued before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and that they are awaiting its ruling.

Evans said he received a letter July 9 stating that the group plans to sue the Carroll County government. The message served as the 60-day notice of intent to sue required by the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Act.

"We intend to go forward on Day 61," Nelson said of the planned federal case against the county. "Citizens can bring an action for violations, but they must first put the polluter, the state and the EPA on notice to allow the government to enforce the violation."

But what usually happens before the 60 days runs out, Nelson said, is that "the polluter goes to the state and negotiates a settlement -- and keeps the citizens out of court."

The narrow issue is the temperature of the treated water, said Nelson, who has visited the new streambed.

"They tore up the concrete slab, put rocks in -- that's good -- but it has no bearing on the temperature of the liquid coming out of the pipe," the attorney said.

"I'm not saying they shouldn't have done what they did, but it won't eliminate the temperature problem," Nelson said. "It may help the erosion problem -- the hope is that it will [although] it will not eliminate it by any stretch of the imagination. They have a major, major storm-water problem there."

But the Carroll County Commissioners, Hampstead town officials and others who visited Thursday seemed impressed, as they wandered along the stream and through the wastewater facility near the Roberts Field development.

Their guides included Gracie, Evans, plant superintendent Ronald L. Ireland and Catherine M. Rappe, chief of the county's water resources management division.

"We want to show the County Commissioners and you the steps that have been taken voluntarily to minimize the impact on the stream," Evans said. That includes, for example, shading the clarifying tanks that separate the water from the sewage for treatment with ultraviolet light.

The old concrete slab measured 30 feet wide and 354 feet long; the new configuration takes almost twice that length to cover the same distance. Treated water from the plant enters Piney Run about midway.

While the concrete's flat bottom heated the water, Evans said, the new streambed's contours will have a cooling effect that will be enhanced by shade.

The banks are bare now between two stands of trees, but they have been anchored with large root-wads, seeded, and planted with willow and other trees as well as shrubs that should hang over the water in five to 10 years, said Gracie, who also serves on the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited.

The standard temperature for trout is 68 degrees, he said, and concrete is probably the worst kind of shallow bottom. During the 1970s, when the water was still chlorinated, Gracie said four miles of the stream were barren.

But in the past three years, he has found a 15-inch brown trout -- "about as long a trout of this kind" -- hanging out right where Piney Run crosses into Baltimore County. Biological surveys for insect larva that indicate the health of a stream -- stoneflies, mayflies and caddis flies -- also had positive results.

The step pools are begun with a geo-textile lining, Gracie said, then a rock is placed at the deepest part of each pool -- building at a predetermined slope to keep the rocks from sliding.

In addition to the radius of each meander, he said, "the slope and the depth are relative, so when you get a big flow coming through here, the depth of the pool absorbs the energy," he said.

"We try to reproduce the natural geometry," Gracie said. "It's a developing science."

Pub Date: 8/17/98

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