City plans to quench thirst with quarry water

Council may pay $12,000 a day to truck supplies


August 28, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

If the heavens don't open to provide significant rain this week, Westminster will address its water shortage with human ingenuity: employing a convoy of trucks to ferry millions of gallons of water from an abandoned quarry to the city's water treatment plant.

"It's alarming to me that we've gone from being flush with water to having so little," said Damian L. Halstad, Westminster Common Council president. "One bad summer and we're up the creek."

The council voted Monday night to approve the trucking plan after discussing options for conserving and replenishing the city's water supply, which has been steadily dropping since April. Then, the reservoir that serves as the city's primary water source was at 90 percent of capacity. Now, officials hope to keep Raw Reservoir's level above 25 percent - which they consider the minimum to keep in store for emergencies.

"In case of fires, we need that water," said Jeff Glass, the city's utility manager. "It's like a checking account - you don't want to get too close to the minimum or you'll hit the service charge."

Westminster joins Frederick city in forming plans to haul in water. Frederick officials said last week that they planned to truck in up to 4 million gallons of water a day.

Westminster officials are willing to tap the city's water fund capital projects budget to pay for trucking expenses that could reach $12,000 per day. The water is free under an agreement with LaFarge Corp., the quarry's owner.

Glass' department would coordinate the movement of water from Medford Quarry to Westminster's Cranberry water treatment plant. The city would pay for eight trucks, carrying 6,000 gallons each, to fill and empty the water for 24-hour stretches. Officials could re-evaluate daily the need for trucking. The eight-mile trip would start at Route 31 and end at the plant, off Route 27.

The need to truck water could be reduced when a new well is tapped. Officials had planned to open the Roop's Mill well in the fall, but moved up the date to address the water shortage. Although that well is expected to provide up to 187,000 gallons of water, city officials are urging the public system's 8,000 customers to do what they can to reduce water use.

Glass said that water consumption is little changed from what it was in pre-drought times - about 1 million gallons a day.

"We're talking about expending truckloads of money, but the simplest thing for people to do is to conserve water," said Councilman Thomas K. Ferguson. "It annoys me to no end when I see someone wasting water."

He suggested using recovered water from dehumidifiers, washers and air-conditioning units to water plants and yards. Others are collecting rainwater from the area's few recent showers.

Westminster's YMCA postponed draining and refilling its 112,000-gallon pool because it does not have the budget to purchase water from a private source.

But as some people are conserving water in ingenious ways, others are using it just as creatively.

Since new water restrictions were imposed by the city last week, some businesses have been punished for trying to take more than their share.

Two landscaping companies were issued $400 citations for tampering with water appliances when tanker crews were caught hooking into fire hydrants. One company had refilled its 1,000-gallon truck twice before it was stopped, said Scott Jeznach, the city's code officer.

"The odds are, unless we're alerted, they can get away with it," Jeznach said. "The amount they use would be less than the average leakage we get on a given day."

The city voted Monday to advertise water restrictions in local newspapers. That move allows Jeznach to issue citations starting at $200 without having to give a warning first.

He cannot give citations to customers outside city limits, but they are not exempt. After the first warning, the city will shut off water to violators and charge $200 to turn it back on.

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