Relief of water woes delayed for Aberdeen

City waits for permission to tap Deer Creek

October 13, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Aberdeen's water woes deepened after a water-use commission again delayed a decision on whether the city could supplement its supply with water from a Harford County river.

Tom Beauduy, deputy director and counsel of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, said the group would likely wait until December to rule on the permit because the city has not submitted results of a well-capacity test performed several weeks ago.

The city wants to use water from Deer Creek so it can reduce its reliance on wells near Aberdeen Proving Ground in which perchlorate, a hazardous chemical, was discovered in June. The Army acknowledges the chemical likely came from military exercises near the well field.

A test done late last month showed perchlorate was also present in the city's drinking water at a level of 1 part per billion - the maximum allowed by the state. The latest test, performed Tuesday, found the perchlorate level below the reporting limit of 1 part per billion, said APG spokesman George Mercer.

Even if Aberdeen won the permit, the drought has left Deer Creek too low to allow Aberdeen to draw water. And, since the Department of Defense has not authorized cleanup of the Aberdeen wells, the city has had to mix water from its 11 wells to dilute the perchlorate levels in the four contaminated wells.

City Manager Peter A. Dacey said officials were disappointed that the permit ruling was postponed but added, "We knew we were under a tight timeline" to submit the well-capacity test results to the commission.

Dennis Funk, a project engineer with the Baltimore office of Gannett Fleming, the company compiling the report, said Friday it would be finished this week.

The issue of taking water from Deer Creek has been hotly debated since the city applied for the permit in 2000 after it took over APG's water service. Though APG has drawn Deer Creek water for decades, its permit cannot be transferred to the city.

Aberdeen's plan to take water from the river constitutes a new use and one that will face close scrutiny, Beauduy said.

He added, however, that the perchlorate discovery would be a factor in the commission's ruling. "Any contamination - particularly in the drinking water - will influence the decision. It may constrain the [well] capacity that might otherwise be there."

But Glenda Bowling, president of the Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizens Coalition, said the ground water, even with perchlorate contamination, is cleaner than surface water, which contains bacteria, runoff and other pollutants. Since the ground water is used for drinking, the Army must treat it.

"The perchlorate needs to be cleaned up whether or not the city gets Deer Creek water because we'd still be using those wells," she said.

Last month, the city performed the well-capacity tests requested by the river commission by pumping the city's wells vigorously over a 72-hour period, said Randolph Robertson, city public works director. That pumping may have pulled in a higher level of perchlorate, which then turned up in the treated drinking water, he said.

Before the city can use water from Deer Creek, it must have two key agreements in place. APG must allow Aberdeen to divert Deer Creek supplies for city use. And, the county has to agree to supply emergency water to the city when Deer Creek is too low. Neither the city nor the county will discuss how much Aberdeen would pay for the water.

APG was moved from Deer Creek water to county water in June because of the drought, Mercer said. Four months later, the waterway is still too low to draw from.

"What this year in particular has proven is that Deer Creek as a source is not reliable," Beauduy said.

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