2 agencies will study Piney Run

State, county collect samples to check nutrient levels

Lake is not `singled out'

Reservoir could be future source of drinking water

January 05, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The state and county are collecting samples from Piney Run Reservoir, a potential water source for South Carroll, to determine levels of phosphorus and sediment and possibly pinpoint their source.

While certain amounts of such nutrients are acceptable, excessive levels can spawn thick algae blooms that affect water quality and create problems in water treatment.

"Elevated levels of certain elements are not acceptable," said county hydrogeologist Tom Devilbiss in a meeting with the county commissioners yesterday. "The sampling process will show us how much is allowed and how we can reduce the levels."

"Our ultimate goal is to monitor what goes into the bay from our waters," said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services.

Piney Run, a 300-acre man-made lake in Sykesville, is a popular spot for boating and fishing. It holds almost 900 million gallons and is 54 feet deep at its deepest end.

The lake is not a drinking water source for South Carroll, home to 28,000 residents and the county's most populated area. About 6,700 homes and businesses in Sykesville and Eldersburg rely on water drawn from Liberty Reservoir, which is owned by Baltimore City.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said, "All we are doing is swimming in it now."

South Carroll has endured three consecutive summers of water shortages and use restrictions. The county has been looking for additional sources, including wells proposed for state-owned property at Springfield Hospital Center and an increased allocation from Baltimore. Neither project has won approval.

Carroll has been monitoring Piney Run's nutrient levels for almost five years, anticipating the water might augment the local supply.

Testing will become more specific, however, measuring phosphorus in pounds and sediment in tons, said Steve Nelson, county water resource specialist.

"We need to get a good handle on the status of the lake now," Nelson said. "We need to know if we are at the start of a potential problem."

The Maryland Department of the Environment began its testing three months ago and will review Carroll's data. All findings will be reported to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

"We are giving the state our data because there is more of it and it is more accurate," said Devilbiss. "We will be working closely with the state."

The state will use the county's information with its samples to develop a standard for total maximum daily loads of nutrients, a requirement of the federal Clean Water Act. The process will take at least a year.

About 300 Maryland waterways have been targeted for testing, said Devilbiss. Loose local enforcement of the Clean Water Act has prompted several lawsuits in other states, he added. The study could deter legal action here.

"This is really the feds kicking the state and saying, `Get busy,' " said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

"Piney Run is not being singled out," Devilbiss said. "The state is looking at the whole Patapsco River area from the Baltimore Harbor on up."

The state will share the Piney Run data with other jurisdictions throughout Maryland. The study could help pinpoint sources of discharges affecting water quality. All of the information will be used to create a model that will become the basis for making improvements to the watershed.

"If we develop Piney Run for a drinking source, then this study is good timing," said Frazier.

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