Members of the Reservoir Watershed Protection Committee, an arm of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council charged with safeguarding area watersheds, are again urging Carroll County officials to work out their differences and reaffirm a long-standing agreement to protect the drinking water of more than 2 million people.
At a committee meeting Friday in Baltimore, members quizzed Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge on her colleagues' opposition to the Reservoir Watershed Protection Agreement. Carroll remains the only metropolitan jurisdiction to withhold its signature from the 20-year-old pact.
Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier have said repeatedly that the agreement infringes on their land-use authority in the watershed, an area that covers more than one-third of the county. They insist on changes to the wording that would allow them to proceed with rezoning watershed land for industry.
"I have no answer for you today other than Donald Dell wants to know what the other executives are thinking," said Gouge, who serves on the watershed committee. "He would like direction on how the agreement could be reworded."
Reached late Friday, Dell said: "There's nothing to discuss at this point [about the agreement]. We've sent each of the signatories a letter and are waiting for their response. We're just hanging loose to see what they have to say."
Dell and Frazier said they were comfortable leaving Gouge to deal with the committee.
"Julia is our representative on the subcommittee and has represented us very well in the past, so I felt no need to go," Frazier said.
The long meeting Friday centered on regional efforts to protect the watersheds, lands that surround the reservoirs and feeder streams that create the water supply for residents of Baltimore and surrounding counties. The one note of contention was the lack of Carroll's signatures on the agreement.
"It is the role of the executives and the Carroll County commissioners to come together on this," said Jack Anderson, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council's coordinator for watershed protection. "Differences in language remain, particularly with agriculture and conservation zoning. But, these are narrow differences and we can come to an agreement."
Gouge said she has discussed Carroll's position recently with the state and with Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who has adamantly opposed any change in language. The commissioners met with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley in November but reached no resolution.
"Ruppersberger is concerned with rezoning ag and conservation land in the watershed," said Gouge. "That is the concern of everyone. But, there are some areas in Carroll that we could rezone to industry and still protect the environment. The state understands that we need industrial growth."
Gouge is concerned that the prolonged debate on the agreement will overshadow Carroll's long history of good stewardship of the environment.
"Our farmers have excelled over the years in best management practices, long before they were mandated," she said. "This debate throws a shadow over all those efforts."
Carroll's major waterways - particularly the Patapsco and Monocacy rivers - are "all the headwaters to someone else's water supply," said James Slater, Carroll's environmental-compliance specialist. That those supplies are in good condition is testament to Carroll's diligence in protecting the water sources, he said.