Panel urges water option

Residents demand that county devise backup if plant fails

Shortage in Freedom area

Citizen liaison panel says commissioners fail to manage supply

South Carroll

March 27, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

An Eldersburg citizens group is demanding that the Carroll commissioners devise an emergency plan should the Freedom Water Treatment Plant on Liberty Reservoir, the chief water supply for 20,000 people in South Carroll, ever fail.

In a letter this week to the commissioners, Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial liaison between the county and community associations in Eldersburg and Sykesville, criticized officials for their "failure to adequately manage water issues in South Carroll."

"We really need a backup to the plant and the county has boxed us into a corner," said Ross Dangel, council spokesman. "If the plant ever fails, we need to know where we can get water."

But the county has a plan if the plant breaks down, according to Douglas E. Myers, Carroll's director of public works. He said his department's staff would react at once.

"We would get the word out immediately and ask that people use the bare minimum of water," Myers said. "Then, we would get the tanker trucks in and start hauling water. It is the same as when there is a bad snowstorm and we get out there right away. We react immediately. It is not a written policy, but it is a policy."

The 30-year-old Freedom plant draws water from Liberty Reservoir, a 45-billion-gallon lake owned by Baltimore. The plant pumps it to nearly 7,000 homes and businesses in South Carroll, the county's most populated area. The county also stores 3.5 million gallons of water in the area's four storage tanks, but that supply - about a one-day reserve - is primarily for fire protection and emergencies.

"We really need to let people down there know what our plans are for a disaster. Right now, there is no plan and I am very concerned," said Carroll Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

Mike Naused, the Freedom council's chairman, said, "We are hoping our letter prods the commissioners into [formulating] a contingency plan. The county's long-range goal is not evident and we know planning is not the commissioners' bailiwick. We need to increase the water supply now."

For the past few years, South Carroll residents have urged the county to drill several backup wells to augment the water supply. One, on property near Fairhaven Retirement Community in Sykesville, has been built and can deliver as much as 300,000 gallons a day.

Instead of wells, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier have pushed for a second plant on Piney Run Lake, an option unpopular with residents that has yet to win state approval. A new plant is at least two years away. The two commissioners could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"I hope this is another opening for bringing the wells on line," said Gouge. "If I had my way, those plans would already be in place."

The Freedom plant can treat up to 3 million gallons of water daily, but that means running aging equipment at peak capacity and possibly overloading the operation.

South Carroll suffers from seasonal water shortages and has endured restrictions on outdoor use four of the past six summers. If drought conditions persist, those restrictions most likely will return and residents will not be allowed to wash cars, water lawns or fill swimming pools.

Adding to the demand for water are two new shopping centers, Eldersburg Marketplace on Route 32 and Princess Shopping Center on Route 26, in addition to many new homes that have been connected to the public water system.

South Carroll's population swelled 46 percent, from 17,838 to 26,063, between 1990 and 2000, according to census figures, while the total county population grew 22 percent, from 123,377 to 150,897.

The commissioners "have continually postponed upgrades and modernization of the plant, while allowing demands on its capacity to spiral out of control," the letter says.

Central Maryland has heard severe drought warnings from the governor's office for several months, but in Carroll, "neither the commissioners nor the department of public works have made any effort whatsoever to encourage conservation," the letter says.

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