Water shortages and burdened public facilities are deterring development throughout Carroll County, but particularly in areas where officials are trying to encourage growth.
A lack of new water sources is curtailing residential and industrial development in Taneytown. New Windsor and Hampstead cannot add more homes or businesses until they expand wastewater treatment plants. Future development in South Carroll, already the county's most populous area, depends on the success of several new wells and millions of dollars in upgrades to the Freedom Water Treatment Plant that will take at least two years to complete.
After Mount Airy drilled a dozen test wells and failed to find more water, town officials are considering a developer's offer to build a reservoir fed by water from the South Branch of the Patapsco River.
The problems are sending growth from established communities into outlying areas, where homes spread across farmland, on large lots with private wells and septic systems, officials said.
"If developers cannot build in the towns, we are going contrary to what the county's plan is for growth," said Edwin Singer, director of the county's Bureau of Environmental Health. "We want to focus growth around the towns."
The Health Department reviews building projects in relation to available water capacity and decides whether the supply is adequate. If the supply is deemed insufficient, a town has to look for more water.
"Smart growth and environmental issues are sometimes in conflict," Singer said.
No jurisdiction can drill a public well or expand the water system without appropriate permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment, an agency that monitors public water and wastewater systems.
Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said federal and state restrictions on water resources "are painting us into a corner. They call for smart growth and then we can't build around towns because of inadequate facilities."
And finding more water is becoming increasingly difficult.
In Taneytown, new projects hinge on increasing the water supply. The city of about 6,300 had to agree to repairs to its system, conservation measures and capacity-management programs before the state would allow an increase in the draws from town wells. But even those increases are not enough.
"We are basically at the end of our limit for drawing water," said James Schumacher, Taneytown city manager. "Our situation is the most dire of the towns, because we are close to reaching maximum allocation."
In December, the MDE and Taneytown will meet to review the city's water allocation. Other municipalities in Carroll and elsewhere also are bargaining with the state over their water-use permits and calling for increases in the groundwater allocations, set by the state.
The state and town of Mount Airy will allow CVI Development Group to look into construction of a small reservoir, fed by waters from the South Branch of the Patapsco River.
If the estimated $14.5 million project moves forward, it would be at the developer's expense.
"Surface water could be a good option for us," said Mount Airy Mayor James S. Holt. "Without it, we won't see any more economic development. We are already over our limit with MDE."
The county commissioners said the reservoir proposal runs counter to Carroll's master plan, which has long included a large reservoir fed by the Gillis Falls - a plan federal officials have rejected repeatedly.
As long as surface water is available, the county will have difficulty building the Gillis Falls Reservoir, said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. Even a much smaller reservoir could push the county's project farther into the future.
"This plan goes completely against ours," Gouge said.
According to the Mount Airy developer's proposal, water would be pumped from the river and impounded in a reservoir.
In a letter to the MDE, the county commissioners stated their concerns with the project, particularly pollution. The developer's proposed watershed lies in a substantially urbanized area that includes Interstate 70 and a railroad line, both with relatively direct runoff to the river.
The county has previously rejected the river as a water resource, calling it unreliable for quantity and quality, the letter says.
"Surface water is much more expensive to treat," Gouge said.
Singer will lead a discussion on water issues at the next meeting early next year of the Carroll County Council of Governments, a forum for the towns and community growth areas. The commissioners will ask the Maryland Association of Counties to consider the problems many areas are facing with lagging water resources.