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Piney Run regulars express concern over lake being drained and possible long-term effects

History is repeating itself as residents of Carroll County have begun to voice opposition to the possible draining of the lake at Piney Run Park.

In a recent board meeting, county commissioners discussed the possibility of using the lake as a water source. Commissioners were told that to tap into the water supply the lake would have to temporarily be drained due to years of sedimentation and loss of water volume.

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While county leaders built the lake in the 1970s to provide recreation for the community, they had also intended to use Piney Run as a water source — an option that has to date not been used, but has been explored in the past.

Piney Run dam is shown during construction, circa 1974.
Piney Run dam is shown during construction, circa 1974. (Courtesy photo)

In 2001, county commissioners Donald Dell and Robin Frazier made the controversial decision to move forward with plans to use Piney Run lake as a water source with hopes to ultimately build a $14 million water treatment plan that they believed would make the county less dependent on Baltimore for water.

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The commissioners had made their decision before allowing the public to participate in meaningful dialogue and were met with swift backlash that contributed to Dell and Frazier losing an election in 2002. An account of the community’s response at the time describes some hundreds of county residents gathering at a protest organized by the now defunct Freedom Area Citizens Council in Piney Run Park, marching with banners and chanting “save the lake.”

At the time, several biologists went on record to express concern about the potential ecological damage that would be caused to the lake if used as a water source and questioned the need to tap into a 2-billion-gallon lake when Liberty Reservoir, the Baltimore water source that Carroll County currently depends on, had nearly 45 billion gallons of water and posed far less ecological risks.

Now, some residents are expressing the same sentiment.

Staton Klein, an avid fisher who frequents Piney Run and has a background in biology and ecology, says he has serious concerns about the county using the lake as a water source now.

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Klein says that the lake currently has dead zones, areas where the water lacks oxygen, at the top of the lake at roughly 15 feet and below and then towards the dam around 17 feet and below.

“My general cause of concern if we draw the water is that these dead zones would actually increase,” Klein told the Times.

But, Klein said the lake’s vegetation is currently combatting the bad water quality from dead zones.

Staton Klein of Sykesville prepares his gear before heading out onto Piney Run lake in Eldersburg Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
Staton Klein of Sykesville prepares his gear before heading out onto Piney Run lake in Eldersburg Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (Dylan Slagle)

“The lake has a lot of aquatic vegetation and that aquatic vegetation through photosynthesis provides oxygen to the water so it counteracts the bad water quality. But if they were to start the withdrawal, water in that lake level were to recede, all of the areas that would be dewatered the aquatic vegetation would die, so you would lose all these plants that are providing oxygen to the water,” Klein said.

Along with water quality, Klein said the volume of water entering Piney Run has diminished over the years.

“When the lake was built in the 70s, there was much more water that came into that lake and that would exit that lake. Now as they develop around the lake, these water sources have been either eliminated or negatively impacted,” Klein said. “The primary supply for the lake is Piney Run stream and it does not supply the same amount of water volume to the lake that it did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, vice versa, and as we proceed into the future and this development continues, that water supply into the lake will also diminish.”

Others who regularly visit the park also expressed concern.

Victor Deppe, another avid fisher, says he grew up on the lake and has witnessed it change over the years due to lack of management.

“The lake is not the same as it was when I was a kid,” Deppe said. “When I was a kid the back of many of the coves had a lot of tree stumps, there was just the right amount of vegetation and there was a lot more fish. Everything has a balance in the ecosystem, and when something starts to take over, you start to lose a lot of everything else very quickly.”

“It just needs proper management, proper fish management, not park management, but it needs proper fisheries management,” Deppe added.

Deppe also believes draining the lake would worsen current problems.

“If the county drained the lake and then they fill the lake back up, all the problems with the sediment and increase in the amount of vegetation are going to continue to happen and they’re going to get worse over time. And that’ll mean more algae blooms to a higher severity which could create a lot of problems for us even a mass fish kill,” Deppe said.

Anglers take advantage of mild weather Wednesday at Piney Run lake in Eldersburg March 3, 2021.
Anglers take advantage of mild weather Wednesday at Piney Run lake in Eldersburg March 3, 2021. (Dylan Slagle)

Along with ecological concerns, some residents expressed unease over temporarily losing the lake as a community resource.

Piney Run has been a recreational haven for children and families during the pandemic, said Athea Driguelles, who worried that it would take years to return the lake to its current state if drained.

“It’s a great resource for the kids to be able to have and it’s a safe place in the community where it is a natural resource and they get to be outside with nature,” Driguelles said.

Added Deppe: “There’s nowhere else to go in Carroll County. That’s that’s the best, most centralized place to have recreation and with the stress of COVID people have learned what kind of peace the outdoors can bring you and what kind of decompression being on the water can bring you.”

The public can express concerns to the Board of Commissioners at a virtual public meeting on Thursday, March 11 at 1 p.m. and then again at 6 p.m. County residents can find more information by visiting the county government’s website.

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