By today, the county was expected to have one of the most comprehensive water protection ordinances in the country.

But after more than 10 years of research, more than $500,000 in spending, and accoladesfrom state, regional and national water and environmental experts, the county admitted yesterday that such an ordinance -- one that wouldguide growth to protect drinking water resources -- is still severalmonths down the road.

The admission came just as a $41,000, 12-month study on the compatibility of the county's Master Plan and its water resource management standards was presented to the commissioners.

"The ball's in ourcourt now," said Catherine Rappe, who heads the county's Bureau of Water Resources. "We're going to start work toward a draft ordinance, which we hope can come out by the end of August or in September."

For the last two years, officials had been saying they wanted a waterprotection ordinance on the books by the end of this month.

The study presented yesterday shows that the county's Master Plan -- whichis a compilation of zoning regulations that guide future developmenthere -- is generally compatible with Carroll's water resource protection standards.

However, some parts of the county slated for high-density or industrial growth are also considered major water resources, said representatives of Horsley Witten Hegemann Inc., the Washington-based consultant group that produced the study.

And developmentcould lead to the polluting of those water resources, the study concluded.

"You have the most intense types of development in the areas with the most water," said MaryJo Moubry, a land-use planner in theconsulting firm's Boston office. "As a result, uses of the land called for now may cause problems."

Nonetheless, the study says, waterprotection standards are not a deterrent to development.

"This does not prohibit development, but limits development to ways that willnot harm the water supply," Moubry said.

Carroll's efforts at water protection have been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland's Department of the Environment as among the best in the country.

Those efforts, which included the formulation of water protection standards, were the first of their kind on the county level in Maryland. By tying land use to its effects on water resources, Carroll was one of only three jurisdictions nationwide to participate in an EPA pilot water-conservation program in 1989.

Among the findings presented to the commissioners were:

* Water demand may exceed supply in and around most of Carroll's eight towns.

* Current development presents some threat to water quality, and that threat could intensify with further development.

* The county should begin looking for additional water sources, especially near the towns.

* The county also should assume an even more active role in water supply development, as well as begin mandating undisturbed, undevelopedbuffer zones near wells and tributaries.

The pollution most likely to affect Carroll water is nitrogen. Thestudy said that, unchecked,nitrogen levels in water supplies throughout the county could be higher than EPA levels allow should the county ever become fully developed.

And while that is considered unlikely, the study cautions the county to minimize the amount of nitrogen being released into the water supply.

"We know that build-out will never occur," said John Hegemann, one of the consultants. "Outside of truly urbanized areas like Manhattan, Baltimore and Washington, we'll never see full build-out. But we still must be careful."

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