Outside water ban is still on

Supplies at record lows, Westminster, county officials say

October 07, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

With levels in Westminster's Cranberry Reservoir down 5 feet and rainfall 6 inches below normal, mandatory outdoor water restrictions could remain in effect for the next month or two, city officials said.

The water ban, imposed in late August, has also failed to noticeably lower the system's consumption of about 19 million gallons a day, said Marge Wolf, a city administrator.

She said Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson will appeal to residents during tomorrow's city council meeting to conserve more water.

"We've seen no .... decrease in the amount of water used," Wolf said. "People just need to start thinking about water as being a very valuable resource, a commodity."

As outdoor water bans in Westminster and Manchester remain in effect, the Maryland Department of the Environment on Friday placed Eastern and Central Maryland -- including Carroll County -- under a drought watch.

The department is increasing oversight of public water supplies in the region and encouraging residents to ratchet up conservation efforts.

A U.S. Geological Survey monitoring well in Carroll dropped a record 4.62 feet below the surface in September. Stream flow levels are also down across the region.

Amid such dry conditions, Westminster is planning to restructure its water rates, for the first time in more than 30 years. One potential goal is to reward conservation and penalize overuse, city officials said.

"Our structure is kind of upside down in the sense that it almost rewards heavy use," Ferguson said. "What works in terms of inducing people to conserve?"

Currently, city residences and businesses are charged a heavier flat rate per quarter -- $22.32 -- for up to 6,000 gallons of use. Customers are then charged a lower rate for each additional 1,000 gallons used per quarter.

The system doesn't grant rebates to households consuming less than 6,000 gallons per quarter, but conservation rewards are being considered.

The Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council recently approved recommendations calling for better incentives for voluntary water conservation, possibly through rebates and penalties for excessive use.

A water resources task force appointed by the county commissioners is drafting specific policies for possible adoption.

The county last studied its water rates in the mid-1990s but that analysis didn't discuss conservation measures, Wolf said.

Ferguson said he hopes Westminster's water rates will be reformatted before the city goes through its annual budget process in the spring.

The city is finalizing a $50,000 contract for the rate study with the Municipal & Financial Services Group in Annapolis. The management consulting firm has performed a similar study for the Denver Water Board in Colorado.

"There are a lot of policy questions that are going to have to be addressed," Ferguson said.

If the level of Westminster's 115 million-gallon Cranberry Reservoir falls to 10 feet, water could have to be trucked in from Medford Quarry, city Public Works Director Jeff Glass said.

The reservoir's level has been about 16 feet recently. The water level must be above 24.3 feet, and/or well levels and rainfall must significantly increase before the city's mandatory water ban will be lifted.

Once the reservoir approaches 10 feet, the water quality becomes poor and requires additional treatment, city water plant operator Scott Gross said.

Completing the proposed 7-mile emergency pipeline from Medford Quarry will allow the city to maintain reservoir levels during droughts such as the current one.

Westminster is advertising for bids on the project, which could cost close to $6 million, city officials said.

Westminster must go before the state Board of Public Works to secure surface water loans for the project after bids are received in November.

The 12-inch water main, which will include a pumping station, should take a year to complete, city engineer Michael Matov said. Construction will likely begin midwinter, he said.

"It's going to be our emergency water supply," Matov said.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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