Water fight

Shortage: City and state authorities bicker on need for city to tap the Susquehanna.

August 06, 1999

THE GOOD NEWS is that Baltimore's three great reservoirs are more than half full. The bad news is that they are nearly half empty.

The really bad news is that state and city officials who should cooperate and exchange expertise in the public interest were bickering and threatening lawsuits, thoroughly confusing the public.

But now the really good news is that Baltimore's public works director, George G. Balog, is planning to tap the Susquehanna River for water Monday, just as Gov. Parris N. Glendening had ordered. City and state seem to be cooperating again.

Baltimore's Bureau of Water and Waste Water for decades has served not just the city but most of the metropolitan region well. An unprecedented water shortage is when people need reassurance that the system is working.

Governor Glendening had ordered the city to tap the Susquehanna, which Baltimore is entitled to do. Mr. Balog had said it wasn't necessary. The public had not known whom to believe.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission has authorized Baltimore to take one-third of its needs from the river for now, but warned that this much might not be available in the future, which sounds like a reason to start.

Neither Mr. Balog nor the chairman of the governor's water crisis task force, Secretary of the Environment Jane Nishida, are technical experts on water supply. They employ such experts, who should be able consult easily on technical questions.

But until yesterday, there was too little water and too much arrogance and turf-fighting.

People responsible for public health and safety in a water crisis should be on the same page, drinking in the same stuff. Fortunately, that seems to have begun.

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