State environmental officials have cut more than a third of the amount of water the county can draw from a long-planned series of wells in Sykesville.
Carroll officials had hoped these wells would expedite plans to augment the supply in South Carroll, the county's most populous and fastest-growing area, which suffers from seasonal water shortages.
The county had tested seven well sites and assessed the combined potential at an average of about 730,000 gallons a day. But the state set the daily average at 468,000 gallons.
Carroll County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, who took office in December 2002, said any decrease in what the county has planned for addressing water woes will cause "a pinch."
"We have allowed less growth since we came to office and that has saved us from being in a real can," he said.
The county planned two wells along Raincliffe Road and five on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville. The hospital wells would be linked to the 4-year-old Fairhaven well, which can pump 340,000 gallons into the public system each day.
The county's tests at the well sites had shown that the five Springfield wells could produce an average of 430,00 gallons a day. The two Raincliffe Road sites had tested at about 300,000 gallons.
When the Maryland Department of the Environment issued permits for the wells, a prerequisite to design and construction, it lowered the daily average for the Springfield wells to 257,000 gallons and the Raincliffe wells to 211,000 gallons.
The state evaluated the county's data for demand over the 12-year life of the permit, for the impact on other users and for the impact on water resources, said MDE spokesman Richard McIntire.
"The door is not closed," McIntire said. "The county can always come back to us."
The state had differences with the county and adjusted the data for drought conditions, he said.
"We are not surprised at the state's decision," said Douglas Myers, county director of public works. "We can work with this and after a year or so, go back and ask for an increase."
Tom Devilbiss, Carroll's geohydrologist, said tests can be subjective and the reduction in allocation is not unusual.
The county had to show what the wells could produce and what the aquifer could support, Devilbiss said.
"We are close to what the watershed will yield at this time," he said. "We might be maxed out in the Springfield area."
Minnich said the official reason for the decrease had to do with groundwater levels. "Unofficially, the state has been stunned by what happened in Centreville and is tightening up on everything," Minnich said.
In the Eastern Shore town, a decadelong pattern of violations at the municipal treatment plant, which MDE monitors, spilled an estimated 1.5 million gallons of raw sewage into the Corsica River last year. The spillage has led to a federal investigation of the plant.
Carroll County is proceeding with the design of the wells and has applied to the state for construction permits. The earliest construction can begin is this fall, with the wells becoming operational next spring, Myers said.
In the meantime, county officials have asked South Carroll residents to conserve water.
"We need voluntary cooperation to make it through the summer with the quantity of water we have," said Steven D. Powell, the county chief of staff.
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.
"We have to be committed to finding and promoting additional water sources in the future," Minnich said. "Our supplies are marginal in several areas."
In western Carroll, Taneytown officials imposed mandatory water restrictions last week, banning outdoor uses such as filling pools, washing cars and watering lawns, after a warning that all five of the town's wells have been working overtime and that the equipment could fail.
In addition, MDE said Taneytown has insufficient water for new developments that have already been approved.The town will begin test drilling this week in search of new water sources for a planned adult community of about 500 units, the town's largest project, 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.
In South Carroll, the public water system supplies nearly 8,000 homes and businesses in Sykesville and Eldersburg with water drawn from Liberty Reservoir, which is owned by Baltimore city.
The county's Freedom Water Treatment Plant on the reservoir can handle as many as 3 million gallons a day from the 45 billion-gallon reservoir, but its 25-year-old equipment cannot continually operate at that capacity.
Carroll officials are negotiating with the city for land to expand the plant and to double the daily draw to 6 million gallons.