Carroll County finds water in `mother-lode' source

Agreement negotiated on 40-year lease for well on 3 acres near Sykesville

August 18, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

While the state delays its approval of Carroll's plan for a series of wells on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center, the county has located a "mother-lode" water source on property owned by Fairhaven Retirement Community, officials said.

The county has negotiated a 40-year lease with Fairhaven for nearly 3 acres of the 32-acre parcel on the east side of Route 32 near Sykesville. Test drilling indicates a well that could be the most productive of a planned series of six.

"The Fairhaven well can provide 300,000 gallons a day, or 10 percent of what we need on a day with peak demand," said J. Michael Evans, county director of public works.

The county can draw 3 million gallons a day from the Liberty Reservoir, water it treats at the Freedom Treatment Plant in Eldersburg. The planned wells would augment the existing supply. Carroll also is negotiating with Baltimore City, which owns the reservoir, for more water and land to expand the 30-year-old plant.

The wells project awaits state approval. Carroll has complied with all the stipulations of the Water Utility and Supply Agreement, which it hammered out with the state six weeks ago. State planners had promised a final agreement by July 31.

"I always worry, whenever anybody promises and doesn't deliver," said Evans. "It gives me pause for concern. They are not living up to their word, but I think they will."

The county is designing the system but will not put the project out to bid without a firm agreement.

"We don't know why we have not gotten the agreement," said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services. "Everybody says it is working its way through channels. If the state has any concerns, I don't know where they are coming from."

Four state agencies and their legal staffs are involved in the review, said Dave Humphrey, spokesman for the state Department of General Services. It is a time-consuming process.

"There has been no foot-dragging," Humphrey said. "This is an important agreement that requires time to negotiate."

Horst said several county administrators have had reassurances from their state counterparts that the agreement is forthcoming.

So the county waits, and South Carroll's 28,000 residents suffer through their third consecutive summer with water restrictions. The county imposed a ban on outdoor use June 1, two months before the governor declared a statewide drought emergency.

The wells, which will cost about $3 million, would be a short-term solution to the water woes. They could be operating by the end of next summer, pending approval from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Once on line, the wells should yield about 1.5 million gallons a day, water that would supplement the daily allocation from the reservoir.

The county could begin work on the Fairhaven well soon, but probably will wait for the state agreement.

"Our preference is to have all the wells approved and a single treatment facility in Springfield," said Horst. "We could then lay lines to the Fairhaven well. If you have a series of wells, that is the optimal situation. A centrally located facility will reduce the length of connecting lines, and there would be no duplication of controls."

The Fairhaven well will be at the north end of the property, on wetlands near a spring that feeds the Patapsco River, said Horst.

In a contract approved yesterday by the county Planning Commission, Carroll will pay Episcopal Ministries to the Aging, Fairhaven's parent company, annual rent for the land.

"We want 3 acres as a protective measure," said Steven Horn, county director of planning. "That should be adequate to protect the water quality."

The lease, which takes effect Jan. 1, stipulates $5,000 annually for the first 15 years; $6,000 a year for the next 15 years; and $7,000 a year for the remaining decade. The county can terminate the lease with a year's notice.

Ed Wheatley, planning commissioner, asked for a contingency in the contract that says "the county won't pay if the well can't produce." The county legal staff had included the contingency in the lease.

Pub Date: 8/18/99

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