Harford water source change

Loch Raven Reservoir will be replaced by Susquehanna River

December 16, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

In the latest response to the impact that months of dry weather have had on water supplies, Harford County will change the source of its water supply this week from Loch Raven Reservoir to the Susquehanna River.

Residents should not notice any change in the quality or taste of their water but might see a slight increase in their quarterly bills, county officials said.

Starting Tuesday, water will be diverted from the river through pumps at Deer Creek for the first time in almost six years.

Baltimore, which supplies water to Harford County, ordered the switch to help conserve the dwindling supplies in area reservoirs. Because of the prolonged dry spell in the summer and early fall, Loch Raven, Prettyboy and Liberty reservoirs are at lower levels than normal for this time of year. Capacity in each is about 66 percent and falling, officials said. In January 2002, the last time the metropolitan area went to the Susquehanna for water, reservoir levels were at 42 percent.

The recent rain and snow helped but have not refilled reservoirs or revived wells, officials said. However, the Susquehanna River is running well above average and with good water quality, officials said.

Harford officials have known since September that the city was considering the switch and has been making preparations.

"We have coordinated the transition with the city, checked outputs and done pre-tests," said Joel Caudill, deputy director of the county Department of Public Works. "From a service standpoint, we don't see any problems."

A small amount of river water already is blended into the county's supply, after it is treated at the Havre de Grace plant.

The county's system pumps about 16 million gallons daily from three major plants to about 42,000 households. Abingdon, the largest plant, can pump 10 million gallons daily from Loch Raven Reservoir or the Susquehanna. The plant is scheduled for an expansion that will double its capacity in the coming years.

The county gets an additional 5.2 million gallons a day from the Perryman well fields, and the rest of its daily supply, about 4 million gallons, from its Havre de Grace plant, which draws from the Susquehanna.

"Clearly, there will be some subtle changes in the chemistry of the water, but those should not be dramatic," Caudill said.

Because of recent drought conditions, several smaller water systems, including those that supply Bel Air and Aberdeen, hooked into the county's system for about two months this fall, until flow in their supply streams increased. Moderate rainfall recently enabled those systems to return to their own operations, Caudill said.

"Rainfall has been helping with stream flow," he said. "All the additional systems have now transitioned off of ours."

But unless there is significant rain or snow, the county expects to use the river water through the winter, he said.

"Everything depends on the weather, and this is an effort to mitigate dry weather and preserve reservoirs," Caudill said. "Traditionally, coming out of summer dry periods, we get a soaker like a hurricane, and return to normal stream levels. That has not happened."

Officials said the average household, which uses about 16,000 gallons of water every three months, might see an increase of about $1.20 in the quarterly water bill. Loch Raven is gravity fed, but drawing river water requires pumps and energy. That water also frequently needs more filtering, officials said.


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