Concerned about increased use of public water, Carroll County officials are calling for conservation from residents in South Carroll, the county's most populous and largest water service area.
Officials want to exercise caution because daily demand for water jumped nearly 400,000 gallons to 2.6 million gallons during the week of May 23, which was unseasonably hot.
Despite milder temperatures last week, usage has not returned to lower numbers. The county would like to maintain average daily use at about 2.3 million gallons.
"The issue now is conservation," said Douglas Myers, Carroll's director of public works. "We don't want to stress the plant. If the numbers stay low, we will be in good shape."
The Freedom Water Treatment Plant supplies drinking water to nearly 8,000 homes and businesses in Sykesville and Eldersburg. The 25-year-old plant can process 3 million gallons a day of water drawn from Liberty Reservoir, which is owned by Baltimore. But running the equipment at full capacity for long stretches would burden the plant.
The county can also pump into the public system an additional 340,000 gallons of water from the Fairhaven well, which was built four years ago to augment the supply in South Carroll.
Pointing to insufficient water supplies and crowded schools, the county commissioners have curtailed new construction in the northeast and southern portions of the county. They voted Thursday to stop reserving new building permits for developers, essentially closing off home construction in those areas until the problems are alleviated.
"With limits on building, we are not adding more lots to the system, and that keeps us from having supply problems," said Frank Schaeffer, deputy director of Carroll's Public Works Department. "We have breathing room."
In western Carroll, Taneytown is dealing with insufficient water for new development. The town will soon begin test drilling in search of new water sources for a planned adult community of about 500 units, officials said.
Although the project, known as Carroll Vista, is under way, the county Health Department could deny building permits if the water supply is deemed inadequate.
The Freedom area, home to nearly 35,000 residents, has frequently endured summer water shortages and restrictions on outdoor use. In 2002, drought conditions meant residents could not water lawns, wash cars or fill swimming pools.
"People in South Carroll have been very cooperative, and we are very appreciative of that," Schaeffer said. "But we want to get ahead of this so there are not problems in the future. We don't want restrictions."
The Carroll commissioners plan to build wells on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville and expand the Freedom plant to meet demands of projected growth. The county is designing the well system, but it has not received state construction and appropriation permits needed to begin building.
Fall would be the earliest that construction of the wells could begin, Myers said.
County officials are negotiating with Baltimore for land to expand the plant and draw more water - as much as double the current capacity - from Liberty Reservoir. The city has ample water, about 45 billion gallons in the reservoir.
"We have no new information on the wells or the plant expansion at this point," Myers said.
Without an increase in the supply, conservation is vital, he said.
"We are putting information together to go into the water bills and will be giving a presentation on conservation measures that we hope to televise," Myers said.
The county bureau of utilities is selling several conservation devices, such as low-flow shower nozzles and hoses. The bureau also has pamphlets with suggestions for conserving water.
"We know there is more use in warm weather, but we are asking people to conserve where they can," Schaeffer said. "Be aware of outdoor use and be prudent wherever you can be."
Sun staff writers Hanah Cho and Sheridan Lyons contributed to this article.