Water crisis predicted in S. Carroll

Growth expected to compel bans on use by next summer

`Something has to be done'

Options for relief disputed by officials and area residents

September 09, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

South Carroll will have a severe water shortage by the beginning of next summer, with demand so much greater than supply, county officials say, that they are certain they'll be forced to impose restrictions.

"I don't have water for next year," said Doug Myers, Carroll's director of public works. "You can't get blood out of a turnip. Something has to be done. The only option now is no more building and South Carroll living constantly with a water ban. There will be bans on like 1999, only longer and stricter."

During that year, Carroll limited watering lawns and gardens, washing cars and filling pools to every other day, determined by whether a resident's address ended in an odd number or an even one. Myers said he expects a similar restriction on outdoor water use will be necessary from June through September next year.

Two shopping centers - Eldersburg Marketplace on Route 32 and a yet-to-be-named smaller strip on Route 26 set to open within the next few months in Eldersburg, new homes and seasonal increases in water usage will likely force the county to impose the restrictions, Myers said. The limits will affect residential and industrial development, including development of the Warfield Complex, which is expected to bring more than a thousand jobs to Sykesville when completed.

"Right now, we don't have the new houses on line or the shopping centers, and water use jumped 25 percent in August," said Myers. With the system strained now, prospects for next summer appear bleak.

South Carroll, the county's most populous area with 30,000 people residing in Eldersburg and Sykesville, is no stranger to water restrictions or controversy caused by water shortages. Its population swelled 46 percent, from 17,838 to 26,063, between 1990 and last year, according to census figures, while the total county population grew 22 percent, from 123,377 to 150,897.

Residents in Sykesville and Eldersburg rely on water from Carroll's aging Freedom water treatment plant on Liberty Reservoir, a 45-billion-gallon lake on Carroll's border with Baltimore County, and the Fairhaven well near Sykesville, which began pumping this year. The treatment plant supplies an average 2.5 million gallons a day in summer and the well pumps 300,000 gallons. The area's public water system serves nearly 7,000 homes and businesses, about 18,000 customers in all.

If next summer's demand remains at 3 million gallons a day or less, there might be few problems meeting needs. But with a prolonged heat wave increasing demand for water, the treatment plant could become so overburdened that it could break down, a potential disaster Carroll officials want to avoid at all costs.

"We cannot handle peak demands," said Julia Walsh Gouge, president of the Carroll Board of County Commissioners. "Our staff tells us we have to find more water. Doug Myers is not crying wolf. The Fairhaven well is simply not enough. We need others."

More water is not forthcoming. Baltimore, which owns Liberty Reservoir, has tied an increase in Carroll's daily withdrawal - the current limit is 3 million gallons a day - to the county's endorsement of longstanding watershed protections, an agreement two of the three county commissioners refuse to sign.

A series of wells could offer a short-term solution, but Carroll has scrapped plans to drill several wells that could deliver more than 1 million gallons a day to the beleaguered system.

"We have to start on the wells. It is absolutely necessary," said Gouge. "Or we will have to put water rations on early next spring."

But Myers said wells could take as long as two years to get up and running.

Instead of wells, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier are pushing for a second water treatment plant, to be built at Piney Run Lake. The state has denied a construction permit for a $14 million plant, saying the project violates Carroll's master plan for water, a planning blueprint the county is required to follow.

Tapping the lake for drinking water also faces strong opposition from South Carroll residents, who don't want a favorite recreation site spoiled. Even if the county secures a construction permit for the plant, it would be several years before it is operating.

Gouge opposes the Piney Run project. But Dell and Frazier have consistently outvoted her when she has tried to get them to agree to drill several wells in South Carroll. They have also refused to agree to endorse the watershed protection agreement, closing off that avenue to increased supply.

Frazier said the county must build the Piney Run plant to meet peak demand and to allow growth to continue as planned 30 years ago. The new plant will be designed to meet maximum demand; the Freedom plant was built to accommodate average daily use and cannot handle seasonal spikes, she said.

Frazier is not as pessimistic about next year as Gouge and Myers.

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