Carroll officials are optimistic about plans for increasing the water supply in the county's most populated area, if an agreement to protect Liberty Reservoir can be reached with its owner, Baltimore City.
J. Michael Evans, Carroll's director of public works, briefed the county commissioners yesterday on his meeting last week with George L. Winfield, his counterpart in Baltimore. Evans and Winfield called their session a cordial exchange of ideas and stressed that maintaining a clean water supply was of paramount importance to negotiations.
The watershed protection agreement, written nearly 20 years ago and approved by the city and metropolitan counties, protects the lake and the 160-square-mile surrounding area, nearly all of that land in Carroll.
Reaffirmation of Carroll's commitment to protect the area surrounding Liberty Reservoir, one of three owned by Baltimore City, is a critical part of the negotiations. Carroll has refused to sign the agreement, which the commissioners say stymies local zoning and planning efforts. The agreement is up for renewal every few years. Carroll officials refused to sign the document four years ago.
Liberty, a 43 billion gallon lake that defines the southeastern border of Carroll County, supplies water to 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area, including nearly 20,000 in South Carroll. "Winfield said he is concerned with keeping the water supply clean," said Evans. "We are, too."
The two public works directors discussed increasing Carroll's 3 million gallon daily allocation from the reservoir to 5 million gallons and plans for a $5 million proposed expansion of the county's Freedom Water Treatment Plant, where 30-year-old equipment processes water from the lake. Carroll needs the city's approval before it can move forward with the upgrade.
"The meeting was to impart information, where we have been and we are in terms of planning for our water needs," said Evans. "Winfield has a good, thorough understanding and was most cordial. He paid a lot of attention and asked a lot of good questions."
Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the city Board of Public Works, said the director would not comment on specifics of the meeting.
"Winfield agreed that the meeting was cordial, but would not comment on discussions," said Kocher. "He did note that the city is primarily interested in preserving the integrity of the watershed."
The status of the 20-year-old watershed protection agreement could figure heavily in the negotiations. Carroll insists on revisions that would allow it to develop much-needed local industry. The county has been a good steward of its land and can adapt its industrial development to protect the land, said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.
Gouge and Commissioner Donald I. Dell said they will not sign the existing agreement. Gouge told the Baltimore Metropolitan Council in September that "Carroll has serious problems with the wording of the agreement. One jurisdiction cannot say `No development' to another."
Dell wants a discussion with the city to explain Carroll's concerns. He said the agreement is too restrictive, but that compromise is possible.
"The agreement now restricts Carroll County's use of nearly half of our land. It would not allow us to change zoning at any time," Dell said. "We can't roll over and let the city and Baltimore County be in charge of zoning our watershed. We can't give up our right to future planning."
Donald Hoffman, president of Finksburg Planning Area Council, a citizens group, wrote to Winfield last month, asking the director for his position on the watershed agreement and the increase in allocation.
"We do not support the commissioners' contention," Hoffman wrote. "The council views protection of the watersheds, by restricting growth in those sensitive areas, as a logical and necessary step to preserving a great resource."
In his reply Feb. 29, Winfield reiterated the city's commitment to protect its water resources. When the Finksburg group met last year with George G. Balog, Winfield's predecessor, members asked the city to use water as leverage to control growth in Carroll.
"We wanted to make our position as clear to Winfield as we had to Balog," said Hoffman, who has not received the reply to his letter. "Any increase in allocation should be tied to the watershed protection agreement and the increase should be used for current users, not for new growth."
Evans explained the county's objections to language in the agreement to Winfield, and then he focused on the treatment plant expansion plans.
Carroll pays the city about $125,000 annually for its daily water allocation from the reservoir. Officials expect that the city would assess an additional premium for an increase.
The county has a long-term lease, which is in effect for 58 years, for the water and the land, an agreement officials would like to modify before putting about $5 million into the plant.