Water use is restricted in South Carroll district

Shortage `critical'

outdoor watering, car washing banned

June 02, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Calling the water shortage in South Carroll "critical," the county commissioners enacted an immediate ban on outdoor water use yesterday for the Freedom District, the county's most populous region.

The ban extends only to the 6,500 households that use the Freedom water system. The district, which encompasses Sykesville and unincorporated Eldersburg, is home to more than 28,000 people.

Residents must discontinue "lawn watering, car washing and outside water usage until further notice," according to a news release issued late yesterday. A letter will go to each customer by the end of the week. Violators could be fined or have their water shut off.

Without an immediate ban, Commissioner Donald I. Dell said, "people down there will suffer as well as the plant equipment. This is a critical situation."

Dell called the ban unfortunate, particularly so early in the summer, but added, "We can't do anything about the weather."

The treatment plant that supplies water from Liberty Reservoir has been running above its daily capacity of 3 million gallons for five consecutive days. Use hit a record high of 3.4 million gallons Monday, straining the plant's 30-year-old equipment.

Hot, dry weather and a holiday weekend played havoc with the plant operation. The system was forced to draw on its backup supply, three storage tanks with a combined capacity of 2.5 million gallons. The increase in demand left the tanks half full.

"It is having a critical effect on our ability to make enough water and meet the daily demand," said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services. "We have been at maximum capacity for five days and have little more than half the water we need in storage. From an operational standpoint, running the plant flat-out for five days is not where we want to be."

Over the Memorial Day weekend, the Freedom plant treated 9.1 million gallons of water, but demand reached 9.8 million. The difference came from storage tanks.

"Our prediction is we will hit maximum again today," Horst said in an emergency meeting with the commissioners yesterday. "If we don't take action, we are headed toward a critical situation. We cannot catch up without relief."

Relief would come with a break in the high temperatures, rain and a drop in use, he said.

"If this weekend was a precursor for summer, it is a scary situation," said Horst. "We are worried because this is only the first of June."

Plant operators want to keep the tanks filled as much as possible. When the amount of water stored drops below half of capacity, water pressure drops, particularly for users at the far ends of the system, Horst said. There is also the fear of insufficient water for an emergency, he said. The amount stored must be maintained at 700,000 gallons in case of a major fire.

"Pressure could fail, and what if we had a fire and didn't have enough water," said Wayne Lewns, utilities bureau chief.

Lewns compared the strain placed on the plant operation last weekend with what would happen to a car driving from Eldersburg to Ocean City at 120 mph.

"You would completely destroy your motor," he said.

South Carroll must understand "what can go wrong at the plant," said Max Bair, executive assistant to the commissioners.

"If we should have a mechanical problem -- failure of any one piece of equipment -- and the capacity to produce water would dwindle," said Horst.

The county plans a plant expansion, additional wells and storage tanks to relieve South Carroll in the long run.

"We have to have a plan, because more people are coming," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier.

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