Governments in Baltimore, Baltimore County and Carroll County should intensify efforts to monitor water quality and preserve forests and farmland in the Prettyboy Reservoir watershed, according to a report released this week by a national conservation group.
The Trust for Public Land spent more than a year studying the watershed, an 80-square- mile expanse in Baltimore County, Carroll County and York County, Pa., that serves 1.8 million water customers in the Baltimore metropolitan area. The organization's report concludes that the governments responsible for Prettyboy - which is owned by Baltimore City - are on the right track in keeping it clean but should coordinate their efforts more often and focus on some overlooked aspects of water protection, such as keeping forests healthier.
The trust is scheduled to present its report to the public and local officials at 5 p.m. tomorrow at Mount Carmel United Methodist Church, 17036 Pretty Boy Dam Road.
"Although the Prettyboy Watershed remains more rural than the Loch Raven or Liberty watersheds, land use in the watershed is undergoing change that will degrade water resources over time if protective action is not taken now," the report states.
Residents should not be fooled by the lush forest surrounding Prettyboy, said Caryn Ernst, who worked on the report for the Trust for Public Land. The reservoir is fed by numerous streams that wend through more developed sections of Carroll and Baltimore counties, she said, and the water's quality is already diminished by the time it reaches the wooded area around the reservoir.
"We really need to push our stream restoration efforts up into the headwaters to have a shot at protecting the headwaters," Ernst said.
The report includes 36 recommendations - among them that local governments raise water rates, collect more detailed data on stream conditions, put more money into existing farmland and forest preservation programs, and control the deer population more aggressively.
"I think they all make terrific sense," said Gould Charshee, water resources program manager for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, which includes all of the Maryland counties addressed in the report. "Whether local governments can afford to carry out all of the recommendations is the process that lies ahead."
Charshee said he and officials from each of the local governments have agreed to consider the recommendations next year when they revise the regional agreement that governs watershed protection for Prettyboy, Loch Raven and Liberty reservoirs.
Many of the report's recommendations could be extended to Loch Raven and Liberty, which provide most of the area's drinking water, he added.
"I think the recommendations are pretty fair," said Bill Stack, Baltimore's chief of water quality management. "We're still sorting through it all, and it needs to go up the chain of command."
Stack agreed with Charshee that funding will be the main obstacle to many of the recommendations' implementation, adding that the city is already working on a long list of water improvements.
The report says that further residential development along Route 30 in Carroll County could be a particular threat to the Prettyboy watershed though it also say that "the political climates in Carroll and Baltimore Counties are conducive to a more progressive approach to land protection and growth management."
Baltimore County has aggressively controlled growth in its northern sector for years and in June, the Carroll commissioners imposed a one-year development freeze that will delay building on almost 2,000 lots across the county.
"Currently, all of the local jurisdictions are undertaking actions that protect the watershed," the report states. "These actions, however, are undertaken on a county-by-county basis, and it does not appear that there is a coordinated effort to use land protection to achieve water quality goals."
Ernst said she hopes residents will create their own watershed protection association that would help governments stay on a shared path.
Prettyboy was one of four watersheds the group examined as part of a federally funded program designed to show the value of land and forest conservation in protecting drinking water.
Of the four, Prettyboy needs some of the most aggressive restoration because the forest around many of its steams is thinning, and development is encroaching on many sides, Ernst said.
She said the issue affects both city residents, who want clean drinking water, and county residents, who don't want to lose their forests and farms