Carroll officials hope to have a draft water protection law ready for public comment early next year.
County officials had appeared set to adopt one of the most comprehensive water protection laws in the United States in 1991.
Despite the delay, state officials say Carroll County is out in front in its efforts to protect water resources.
"We believe this program in Carroll County can be a model for the rest of the state. We think they're far ahead of other counties in water protection," said Lou Geiszl, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The proposed county ordinance would create water protection zones around wells or potential wells that have been identified as possible municipal water sources. It also would augment reservoir protection.
County officials say they expect opposition to the ordinance because developers would face new water protection requirements and farmers might have to make some changes in how they use land.
But Commissioners Elmer Lippy and Julia W. Gouge pledged to stand firm in supporting the water protection law.
"I'm 100 percent for it," Mr. Lippy said. "We can save future taxpayers a lot of money by going for this."
"I feel the same way," said Mrs. Gouge. "I think it's going to be more important as time goes on than it seems to be today."
The cost to clean contaminated water is much higher than the cost of preventing contamination, both commissioners said.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.
By July 1991, more than 10 years of research and more than $500,000 had been spent to plan a water resource protection ordinance. Catherine M. Rappe, chief of the Bureau of Water Resource Management, announced then that she hoped to have a draft ordinance ready in one or two months.
Now, 2 1/2 years later, county officials say no single factor caused the delay.
James E. Slater, who heads the office of environmental services the commissioners created in 1991, said he wanted the water resource protection ordinance nailed down.
"A lot of the discussion [before] had been very philosophical," Mr. Slater said. "When people get together and talk about protecting the water, it's easy. It's very easy. It becomes more difficult when you talk about specific things you have to do to get to that goal."
The draft ordinance is backed by technical data that support the need for various measures and call for measures that will work, Mr. Slater said.
Ms. Rappe said preparing the ordinance "took a little longer than I anticipated." After the budget crunch two years ago, Water Resources was short-staffed and she had to handle two jobs, she said.
The county government is scheduled to conduct a public information meeting on water protection at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the County Office Building. Ms. Rappe said the meeting will focus on sources of water in Carroll and wellhead protection rather than on the ordinance, which has not yet been released to the public.
Ms. Rappe said she doesn't know whether the law would increase the cost of building a subdivision.
"Developers may be required to do things a little differently. I can't say whether more expensively," she said.
County officials have not released specifics, but the ordinance generally is expected to:
* Tighten requirements on how septic systems are placed on lots and increase oversight to make sure the systems are properly installed.
* Establish construction-free zones around existing town wells or sites that are identified as possible municipal water supply wells. Developers would be required to keep 100 feet around the sites clear.
Ms. Rappe said the ordinance calls for those sites to be acquired, but doesn't specify how developers would be compensated for lost building lots.
Hampstead Mayor Clint Becker, who has been involved in discussions on the ordinance, said preservation of possible well sites outside town borders is important. Even a town that doesn't expand its borders may need new wells to meet demand, he said.
* Require developers to put liners in storm water management ponds that are over carbonate rock, which contains a lot of water but is vulnerable to pollution.
* Bar property owners from denuding vegetation around streams to reduce water runoff that ends up in reservoirs.