County tackles water woes

Summit will address deficits

Mount Airy seeks growth freeze

January 07, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,[Sun Reporter]

The water crisis affecting Westminster and much of Carroll County goes beyond the concerns of pumping water from well to tap and could drastically alter growth plans in the county for decades to come, according to local officials and water experts.

To brainstorm solutions to water deficits and the new state requirement that a water system meet its demand during the worst droughts on record, officials from Carroll's eight municipalities will gather for a countywide water summit Feb. 3.

If the Maryland Department of the Environment continues to enforce water restrictions in those municipalities, that could undermine overall county efforts to contain sprawl, said Jesse Richardson Jr., an expert in water-rights law at Virginia Tech.

"It can really create dumb growth in Carroll County, if the towns, where they want to focus development can't issue any more building permits," said Richardson, who is invited to speak at the summit. "It seems like the Smart Growth and groundwater policies are at odds with each other."

The issue has become particularly dire in Carroll and Frederick counties since both mostly depend on groundwater wells, said Richardson, who recently toured Carroll's major water sources.

To resolve the water deficit that has shut down new development in Westminster, city officials drafted an agreement to jumpstart that process with the state environmental department.

At the same time, Mount Airy's water commission is expected to recommend tomorrow night that a growth moratorium be re-instituted in the town, municipal officials said.

The environmental department stopped the signing of building permits in Westminster in late September when it determined the city could face up to a 900,000 gallon per day water deficit during droughts.

City Administrator Marge Wolf hopes an agreement will be hammered out with the state in the next few months. But getting new water sources tested and outfitted for treatment could take years, she said.

"It is a big puzzle with a lot of different pieces," Wolf said. "It will come together, but it won't be today."

Westminster officials said they have discussed with county officials plans by the city to build a pipeline to Big Pipe Creek in Union Mills. But that plan could hinder the county's long-term goal to build a Union Mills reservoir, Westminster Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the city would need space to store water from the pipeline, while the creek could prove an unstable source.

Other potential water sources for Westminster include the Koontz Creamery well off John Street, a pipeline from Medford Quarry off Route 31 to the city's Cranberry Reservoir and an additional quarry on private property that recently came up for sale, Ferguson said.

The state has permitted that 500,000 gallons per day can be drawn from Medford Quarry, "but we believe that is too conservative a number," Ferguson said. He said one million gallons a day was allowed to be trucked in from the quarry during the 2002 drought.

"That would knock a real hole into the deficit," Ferguson said.

The Koontz Creamery could prove more costly to clean since it is contaminated with petroleum, Ferguson and Wolf added.

In Mount Airy, three potential sources of surface water were being eyed, until a more anti-growth mayor and two new councilmen came on board in May and put the brakes on development.

But Councilman John Woodhull said exploring other groundwater options would be less costly.

"I don't think current residents should have to pay for water so developers can develop," said Woodhull, the liaison to the town's water and sewer commission. "There's enough water for the people that are here now."

Mount Airy has a consent agreement with the state Department of the Environment that has allowed a limited amount of development to proceed.

The agreement assumed the town would gain a new water source, said the water and sewer commission's chair, Marc Nance.

Without a new water source, the state might soon force Mount Airy to withdraw 100,000 fewer gallons of water per day from its wells, Nance said.

That forces the commission to ask the town to enforce a growth moratorium until new water comes online. Nance said there are building permits approved and the projects will need water.

Looking ahead, these water woes only foreshadow the problems wastewater treatment faces, Mayor Ferguson said.

A new state Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan requires that all sewage treatment plants reduce pollution by 2010.

"That's going to be another constraint on growth," Ferguson said. "If you had all the water God could give to you, there are still limits from an environmental perspective on how much you can treat and discharge."

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