Reservoir agreement in jeopardy

Gouge backs quitting pact with Baltimore if changes aren't made

Growth restrictions at issue

Commissioner says city has no right to limit development in area

September 01, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County will no longer participate in a regional agreement to protect the area around Liberty Reservoir unless growth restrictions are lifted, County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge told the Baltimore Metropolitan Council yesterday. Baltimore is trying to stymie growth in Carroll County, she said at the meeting in Baltimore.

The Watershed Management Agreement, negotiated nearly 20 years ago and reaffirmed every few years, gives Baltimore control over 160 square miles surrounding the reservoir -- nearly all of it in Carroll County. The city and three other metropolitan counties -- Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford -- reaffirmed the agreement in 1996. But Carroll has been insisting on revisions and would not re-sign the document.

"The bottom line is we don't have to be part of the agreement. We can do without it," said Gouge. "Carroll has serious problems with the wording of this agreement."

Carroll will continue to protect the 43-billion-gallon lake, the source of drinking water for 1.6 million people in the Baltimore area, but it must be free from restraints imposed by other jurisdictions, Gouge said.

The county's stance could imperil Carroll's request to increase by 2 million gallons its 3 million gallons-a-day draw from the reservoir. Carroll is also negotiating with the city for land to expand its treatment plant. Gouge said she does not expect her comments to affect those discussions.

"The city is making money from us, selling us water," she said. "We are willing to buy that water and to protect it."

Gouge said Carroll has a long history of protecting the watershed and has earned the right to determine how and where the county will grow.

"Have we ever told Baltimore it could not do something in the city?" Gouge asked. "How would that make you feel?

"One jurisdiction cannot say `no development' to another," she said. "We are working for the good of all. We will not put ourselves in a position that is subservient. We have rights as well. They need to understand we have always been good stewards of the land and the water."

Baltimore wants the agreement affirmed as written, said Ralph Cullison of Baltimore's Public Works Department. Any change would weaken the agreement and establish a pattern of decline in the water supply, he said.

Runoff from development could cause silt to build up, decreasing the reservoir's capacity, Cullison said. One stream that feeds the reservoir, Morgan Run, has increased levels of chloride and nitrates because of development, said William Stack, a city administrator.

"It is not our intention to make Carroll County subservient to Baltimore City," Cullison said. "We have to balance their need for growth with ours for water quality."

The city does not want to be involved in every development proposed for Carroll County, but "it is determined to protect its watershed," said Kurt Kocher, a city Public Works Department spokesman.

"The language in the agreement creates obstacles that don't need to be there," said Max Bair, administrative assistant to the Carroll commissioners. "We can craft the words that guarantee the quality of the water. Then, everybody wins."

The watershed extends from South Carroll to the central county and includes Eldersburg, Finksburg and Westminster.

Water from Liberty supplies about 6,800 homes and businesses in South Carroll, the county's most populated area and the one most prone to water shortages. South Carroll has been under water restrictions since June 1, two months before a statewide ban was imposed.

The agreement as written restricts economic and residential development in a county that desperately needs to increase its industrial base, now the lowest in the region, Carroll officials said.

"Baltimore County is 20 years ahead of us as far as industry is concerned," Gouge said. "They are already there. We need to get there. We have never said we would not protect the land and the water supply. We would like to sit down with the blessings of Baltimore city and county to show what is workable."

Carroll has a long history of sound management practices protecting land and water, Gouge said. Its upstream location does not make it a polluter, she said.

"Instead of hampering us, the city and county should be saying, `Thank you,' " she said.

The Baltimore Metropolitan Council's Watershed Committee will address technical aspects of the agreement next week. Gouge said she hopes those sessions will mean a sharing of ideas.

"Let's look at the maps and see what is possible," Gouge said. "If this is really, truly a regional group, we have to work together on this. As it is now, this is not working together and making all of us strong."

Baltimore County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who chairs the subcommittee, said he saw room for compromise. "If you would reduce the area you wish to develop, perhaps we could accommodate your requests," he told Gouge. "Commissioner Gouge is the one to work with to get this done."

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