Weeklong conference seeks ways to protect reservoir's watershed

Prettyboy study one of four funded by EPA nationwide

April 08, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Seeking to protect the land surrounding a large portion of the metropolitan area's water supply, a group of conservationists, government officials and neighbors of Prettyboy Reservoir is working this week to find ways to protect the reservoir's watershed.

As a weeklong conference on the health of the watershed started yesterday, participants said they would explore such issues as agricultural pollution and runoff from development.

Among the primary concerns of the "stewardship exchange" is the declining amount of forest land in the watershed, which extends from Baltimore County to Carroll and to York County, Pa.

"The forests are the best things that can happen for water quality," Rob Northrop, watershed forester for the state Department of Natural Resources, told a group of about 50 people gathered at a restaurant near the reservoir. "But they are the land cover we pay the least attention to."

A 2001 survey of 1,600 blocks of tree-covered watershed areas showed 84 percent of them had no seedlings, he said, adding, "There should have been thousands."

"With seedlings gone, this does not bode well for the future of forests," he said. The "high density of deer" in the watershed are likely to blame, he said.

Northrop will expound on forestry issues at a 9 a.m. session tomorrow at Westminster United Methodist Church, where most of the conference will be held.

Participants hope to build concern for the watershed among those who live within its confines as well as the nearly 2 million metropolitan-area residents who rely on it for drinking water.

"If we ruin these reservoirs, there won't be any more," said Gould Charshee, water resources program manager with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. "What we need is long-term stewardship to keep them viable. We must develop a conservation ethic."

The five-day conference, funded through a $90,000 federal grant, includes a driving tour of the watershed and a series of meetings this week, with in-depth discussions on farm and forest management, land use, and protection of the streams that feed into Prettyboy.

The watershed was one of four chosen nationally for a study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The idea is to identify lands for conservation and to develop a strategy to protect them," said James Slater, Carroll County's bureau chief of environment and resource protection. "We want to start a locally driven process to protect source water. When this program is over, it is intended to be implemented. It is a waste of time unless it is implemented."

Conservation consultants will take the data from the conference to prepare recommendations for restoration and protection. The Trust for Public Land and the Forest Service, two agencies that helped organize the conference, will work with the federal government to see that the recommendations are carried out, officials said.

Yesterday, the group heard a brief history of Prettyboy, the smallest of the three reservoirs owned by Baltimore City. It was built in the 1930s to augment storage capacity at Loch Raven Reservoir, 12 miles downstream from Prettyboy. The city also owns Loch Raven and Liberty reservoirs and much of the land surrounding them.

The city owns about 7,000 acres surrounding Prettyboy, but the watershed -- land with streams and wetlands that directly affect the reservoir -- covers about 128 square miles in western Baltimore and northeastern Carroll counties, as well as a small area of York County in southern Pennsylvania. Protecting that land and the 20 billion-gallon lake is vital to the area's water supply, conference speakers stressed.

Good land management, conservative farm practices and public awareness will all contribute to protecting the watershed, they said.

"We have to enlist the aid of landowners while not denying them the right to use their land," Charshee said.

Rampant development has taken its toll on the area's water supply. Conference organizers chose Prettyboy Reservoir because it has not been affected by the widespread development that Liberty Reservoir has seen.

"We are not sure we will have the answers by Friday, but we are focused on water quality and an understanding of this watershed," Charshee said. "Prettyboy is still largely rural and is showing less signs of stress from urban development."

The group will also try to strike a balance between conservation and recreational needs of bikers, hikers, hunters and anglers who favor Prettyboy.

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