New pipeline would boost water supply

Some fear conduit will encourage suburban sprawl

`You can't stop growth'

Proposed route intended to serve through 2025

August 29, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After two decades of careful planning, engineers are finally ready to design and build a 4-foot-diameter pipe to help bring 30 million gallons of water a day from Baltimore City to Howard County -- drought or no drought.

If that seems odd, think again, say project engineers and government officials. The final design should be finished by next summer, and construction is expected to begin in January 2001, engineers said.

The engineers have worked closely with civic activists in West Baltimore, who were concerned that construction of the huge pipeline would cut a 60-foot swath through the middle of Leakin Park.

The new pipeline will serve office buildings, homes and businesses coming to Howard County through 2025. Despite that, the boundaries of the eastern portion of Howard served by public water and sewer won't expand, so although some people have raised questions about development, county and state officials say the new pipe fits the concept of Smart Growth.

"Baltimore has one of the best water supply systems in the country," said Frank H. Donaldson, vice president of Riemer Muegge and Associates, the consulting engineers designing a critical part of the project.

The reason, he says, is far-sighted planning -- the kind that created a system withstanding one of the worst droughts in decades. And it is enduring the rain deficit so well that no one using public water need fear going dry, Donaldson said.

"These reservoirs were designed to take major droughts. They aren't supposed to be full all the time," Donaldson said.

`Loss of population'

Some, however, are not confident that the new pipe is in keeping with Smart Growth.

"Here's Baltimore City, which needs population, and we're aiding and abetting the loss of population," said Nancy Davis, a Fulton resident active with the Sierra Club who is worried about water availability and continued development in Howard County.

David A. Carroll, a Windsor Hills resident and Maryland secretary of the environment under Gov. William Donald Schaefer, shares Davis' concerns.

"Why is Howard County continuing to build water pipes to serve sprawl growth?" Carroll said. That, he said, "just makes it easier for people to leave the city."

A larger issue, Carroll said, is "are we outgrowing our infrastructure and our resources?" He thinks so, but county and state officials disagree.

"Whether [the water is] used in Howard County or Baltimore City, it's still going to be used," said county Public Works Director James M. Irvin.

"You can't stop growth in Howard County," Howard County Executive James N. Robey said. Without the new water pipeline, county officials said, they would have to stop issuing building permits in approximately 10 years. "It would be [economically] devastating," Robey said. "That's not Smart Growth."

Concerns about development

Ronald N. Young, Maryland's deputy planning director, said construction in the developed sections of eastern Howard County follows the dictates of Smart Growth, as does redevelopment of Baltimore's older neighborhoods.

"I think both will fit under this. It's not an either/or," Young said. "Maryland's going to grow by more than 1 million people in the next 20 years. Baltimore could easily absorb 200,000 or 300,000 of those people."

In the southern part of the county, some residents are upset about two proposed mixed-use developments that would add more than 2,500 homes, plus retail businesses and offices during the next five to 10 years to the undeveloped land along Route 216.

Irvin said the new pipe isn't needed to serve those projects, however. "We're assuming that even if those two projects didn't happen, there would still be 2,500 units per year of development."

Each new home uses on average 250 gallons a day, and each commercial building averages 1,000 gallons a day. Howard County uses about 24.3 million gallons a day, 18.2 million of which come from the pipe under U.S. 40. By 2015, an expected 26.9 gallons a day will be drawn from the U.S. 40 system.

The new pipe's greater capacity will be needed within the next decade, Irvin said, but not just because Howard will require more water. The pipe -- for which Howard County has put $10 million aside in its capital budget -- also will provide more reliability and flexibility, he said.

It will help should emergency repairs be required on the older system, Irvin and Donaldson said. Also, as demand slowly increases on the pipeline that runs through Leakin Park, Edmondson Heights and U.S. 40 west, more and more pumping power will be needed to force the water through the miles of pipe. The new line will offer less resistance, allowing the precious liquid to flow more easily, officials said.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is a tentative new route for the pipeline through Leakin Park.

The original plan was for the line to follow the old pipe's route through the center of the park, crossing Deep Run stream at least three times, and cutting down hundreds of mature trees.

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