Growing population to strain water supply in state, report shows

Southern, eastern regions to be hard hit, report shows

August 19, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Maryland will have to find another 233 million gallons of water a day to serve a population expected to swell by at least 1 million people over the next 25 years, a new study says.

And to do that, the state's environmental agencies will need more money, more staffing and more information to manage the state's water supply, according to the authors.

The study, led by longtime Johns Hopkins University professor M. Gordon Wolman, showed that significant population increases, particularly in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore, will severely tax the water supply unless consumers learn to conserve and better manage resources.

"Do we have a crisis? The answer is, we periodically have crises," Wolman said. "The focus of this report is what kind of management is necessary such that you minimize the number of possible crises."

Wolman's committee was born after the 2002 drought convinced the legislature that Maryland could have trouble meeting the demand for water unless more was done to protect its supply. Since late last year, when the committee began meeting, the drought problem has given way to struggles among residents, developers and local governments over water issues.

Last month, the Maryland Department of the Environment issued a moratorium on growth in Middletown, a small community west of Frederick, pointing to concerns that development was outstripping the water supply.

Also last month, state environmental officials told Taneytown in Carroll County that it had too little water to support new construction.

Wolman predicted yesterday that communities would continue to face such problems if they do not plan around water resources when they consider new development. Robert M. Summers, director of MDE's waste management administration, agreed.

"I see individual communities and areas that need to get on better top of their plan for water," he said.

Of particular concern are Southern Maryland, where the population is projected to increase by 55 percent by 2030, and the upper Eastern Shore, where the population will increase by at least 25 percent.

Southern Maryland and the coastal areas draw from confined ground water aquifers, where the dropping water levels haven't reached a critical state but need further study, Summers said.

In the Baltimore and Washington areas and Western Maryland, the bulk of the water supply comes from surface water. Those areas are in better shape but still in danger of overuse, especially in the Washington area, where many jurisdictions share the Potomac River.

The report encourages further study of the aquifers and continued monitoring of wells -- even in the face of budget cuts -- as well as better coordination between Maryland and Virginia on the use of the Potomac's water.

Though it's not clear how many of the report's recommendations will become policy, MDE has acted on at least one of them. The agency, which at one time had a staff of nine helping local governments prepare water and sewer plans, dropped its staff to one last year.

After the report called that staffing level "woefully inadequate," the MDE restored its water and sewer team -- though its nine members have other duties as well.

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