Water shortages looming with delay of new well

State hasn't issued construction permits

May 15, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Plans to build a well to ease water shortages in South Carroll, the county's most populous area, have been delayed until at least the end of summer because state environmental officials have not issued construction permits.

The well, on property owned by Fairhaven Retirement Community, was supposed to be in operation by Memorial Day. Although the design has been completed and the project will go to bid soon, the county has yet to receive construction permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"I have to tell the commissioners that we will not be bringing this well on line by Memorial Day," said J. Michael Evans, county director of public works, who will meet with the commissioners today."The problem is the permit is still stuck at MDE."

MDE officials declined to comment.

The state advertised its intention to issue a permit in March but has not taken any action.

"We were really counting on this, and we don't know what the state's problem is," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "All we have heard is that the permit is awaiting a signature. Once we get the permit, we will expedite this project as fast as we can, but right now, it doesn't sound good."

For months, county officials have predicted the new well, which could deliver as much as 340,000 gallons a day, would be pumping by Memorial Day. The long holiday weekend traditionally brings alarming spikes in water use. Last year, the three-day demand on the plant far exceeded its capacity and stressed its 30-year-old equipment. The county was forced to use water held in storage tanks and to enact a ban on outdoor use that lasted through September.

Demand reached 3.1 million gallons on May 7, the hottest day of the year so far, but the system has been able to handle it, said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services. In a conservation effort, the county has stopped selling water to two private water hauling services, which supply water for uses such as swimming pools.

"Without the well, we have no remedies for right now," said Horst. "We truly need additional capacity. We thought we had good plans in place with an achievable time line by Memorial Day."

Phil Bennett, a member of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, called the county "remiss in not providing better water service to South Carroll."

The county is negotiating with Baltimore for a 2 million-gallon increase in its daily draw from Liberty Reservoir, a 45 billion-gallon lake owned by the city. City officials have said they will not approve the increase until Carroll reaffirms its commitment to protecting the watershed by limiting development in the area.

"We would not be in this situation if we had 2 million extra gallons a day," Bennett said.

The well planned for the 3-acre site leased from Fairhaven should yield a large amount of water, officials said. But they said it was never considered more than a temporary solution to persistent water shortages in South Carroll, home to 28,000 residents. At its peak, the new well could pump an amount that is more than 10 percent of the county's daily draw from Liberty Reservoir.

The county design calls for building a small filtration plant on the Fairhaven property. That plant would also serve a series of five wells the county expects to build on nearby state-owned property. That project is also on hold, waiting for state permits.

The 10 percent increase in the daily supply would give the county a cushion during times of peak demand, Evans said. Without that cushion, South Carroll could be headed for a fourth consecutive summer of water restrictions. Forecasters have predicted another dry spell that could turn into another drought.

"If it gets hot and dry, there has to be limitations," Evans said.

Dell said he applauds the people in South Carroll for their cooperation.

"Last year, when we had to impose the ban, they reduced usage overnight," Dell said. The delay in the well construction "is an inconvenience but just a situation where bureaucracy gets in the way of common sense."

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