Proposal for water source returns

County official prefers reservoir to relying on city

March 23, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Rather than "beg the city of Baltimore for water," Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier would revive plans to draw water from the county's reservoir at Piney Run Lake in South Carroll.

The 90-million-gallon lake could supply water to Carroll's most populous and rapidly growing area, she said. The nearly 30,000 residents in Eldersburg and Sykesville have endured three consecutive summers of water shortages, and they expect little relief this season.

The Freedom treatment plant supplies about 7,000 homes and businesses in South Carroll with water drawn from Liberty Reservoir, a 40-billion gallon lake owned by Baltimore City. The county has been looking for additional water sources for several years.

Plans for the $15 million Piney Run project were shelved about six years ago. The design included a treatment plant with a maximum capacity of 6 million gallons a day, to be constructed at the south end of Piney Run Lake, and water lines and an access road. The county spent about $1.5 million on designs for the project and has recently been in discussions about revising those plans, officials said.

The company that designed the Piney Run plant has determined the plan is viable, officials said.

"It would require revisions, but they have told us they would be glad to dust it off," said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services. "The design was ready to go out to bid at that time."

In 1994, instead of moving ahead with new construction, officials opted for about $5 million in improvements to the existing plant at Liberty Reservoir and the construction of a series of wells on state-owned property near Route 32. But neither project has gone beyond the planning stages because negotiations with the city and state are stalled.

Proposed renovations to the 30-year-old Freedom plant would allow the county to treat an additional 2 million gallons daily from Liberty Reservoir. It can draw as much as 3 million gallons a day. The city must approve any increase in the allocation and use of its land.

J. Michael Evans, county director of public works, said he was optimistic he could reach an agreement with the city after a recent meeting with his city counterpart, George Winfield.

Frazier does not share that optimism.

The stumbling block is a long-standing watershed protection agreement, which Carroll officials have not reaffirmed since 1996. Carroll is the only jurisdiction that has not signed the pact endorsed by the city and the other surrounding counties. All three county commissioners have said the agreement stymies Carroll's plans for growth.

Ratification is problem

"Ratification of the agreement is the problem," said Frazier in a meeting Tuesday with South Carroll residents. "It is too far-reaching in trying to control our planning. We won't sign, unless it is modified. I think we should build Piney Run rather than beg the city for more water."

Evans said the city and county might find "mutually agreeable language" that would rescue the watershed agreement.

Even with more water from Liberty, the county would need another source for South Carroll, its largest planned-growth area, Frazier said. An expanded Freedom plant and a $5 million series of wells might not be enough. Why not move forward with a solution that is already designed? she asked.

"We have spent money on design for the new plant," Frazier said. "If we add all the possible solutions together, we come up with nearly the same dollars. Why should we be in a situation where the city controls our water supply?"

Carroll has nearly 60 years left of its lease with the city for Liberty water. City officials would not comment on the negotiations, but reiterated their commitment to protecting the watershed from development.

"This is the water supply for 1.8 million people," said Kurt Kocher, spokesman for Baltimore's Department of Public Works. "We have to ensure we have a continuous supply of high-quality water. That means we have to ensure the quality of the areas around the watershed and that does not stop at the shoreline."

`A good customer'

Horst said the county has mentioned the possibility of revising plans for Piney Run during its talks with city officials.

"We are a small customer for the city, but a good customer," said Horst. "But we do have another place to develop sources. Everything is on the table."

It would take at least three years to build a plant and make it operational, he said. The area would be relying solely on one system for its water.

"If we had three distinctly different sources in our system, even there was a catastrophe at one, we could still go a long way to meeting customer needs," said Horst. "If you put all your eggs in one basket and you have a catastrophe, you have no water."

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