Need grows, plans emerge

As development increases, officials seek water sources

October 08, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

With many of Carroll County's municipalities scrambling to secure new water sources, county officials have revamped efforts to acquire more land around Gillis Falls and Union Mills, hoping to gain approval to build reservoirs there to serve the area's growing needs.

The county commissioners are optimistic that the Maryland Department of the Environment will reconsider surface water options. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and federal Environmental Protection Agency still present major hurdles because the projects cannot move forward without their approval.

With a water deficit freezing development in Westminster and limiting growth in Mount Airy and Taneytown, county officials hope the two reservoir projects will gain momentum. Hampstead and Manchester could also benefit from the projects, county staff said.

"Reservoirs are regional water supplies, not just to solve one emerging problem," said Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff. "If we allow short-term solutions to water problems, does that then foreclose the opportunity to create the reservoirs?"

In populous South Carroll, future development also hinges on the success of numerous wells and a four million gallon per day expansion planned for the Freedom Water Treatment Plant. The project is estimated to cost $12.8 million over its original budget and is scheduled to come online in 2008.

The county has also struggled with the state over rights to pump from three Freedom well sites for more than 40 years, Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said.

The Raincliffe well is under construction in South Carroll and would provide an additional 200,000 gallons of water per day, starting in spring 2007, according to Frank Schaeffer, the county's deputy director of public works. But state agreements on the Freedom Park and Springfield wells are still in limbo, Schaeffer said.

"The amount of water we can get from these wells now is proving less than we had anticipated," he said.

In Mount Airy, town officials have talked to the state environmental department about drilling for groundwater on the Gillis Falls property. But such a measure would seem to conflict with the long-term county plan to construct a reservoir there.

Until the water problem is solved, new development can't be entertained, Mount Airy Mayor Frank Johnson said.

"We've got fairly bustling activity in town, but do have the reality of water limits," he said. "There's a lot of building that hasn't happened, that's already been approved."

In Westminster, building permits are on hold until city officials hammer out a plan with the state on how to solve the water deficit.

Expensive commercial projects at Carroll Hospital Center, several industrial parks in Westminster and at Carroll Community College will be stalled, county officials said.

"We're telling you, you can't do things important to economic development, the education system and anything else," said Edwin F. Singer, Carroll's environmental health director, who issues building permits through the state. "I don't like being put in the situation right now, when there are planned projects I'm unable to sign."

The county's updated 2006 water and sewer master plan emphasizes Westminster's need to build an emergency connection to Medford Quarry and construct a new water treatment plant.

The environmental department went further, urging Westminster to build a $5.5 million enclosed pipeline, linking the quarry to the city's 115-million gallon Cranberry Reservoir. The agency also recommended purchasing land to enlarge the reservoir.

In updating the decades-old plans for the Gillis Falls and Union Mills reservoirs, county officials said they would try to prevent problems that have plagued area reservoirs. For example, accumulated silt has eaten up 30 percent of Loch Raven Reservoir's capacity, Gouge said.

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