Mystery of the missing water CARROLL COUNTY

Vast amounts of treated drinking water seem to be mysteriously disappearing in various parts of Carroll County.

In Westminster, enough water for nearly 5,300 households disappears daily. In South Carroll, customers have been receiving bills for twice the amount of water they used last year. Something very strange indeed is going on.


PD Westminster officials say that leaks in the city's pipes account

for about a third of the 535,200 gallons that disappear daily between the city's water treatment plant and residents' water meters.


City officials were actually somewhat relieved to find that corroded pipes are responsible for part of the problem; they had feared the pipes were in worse shape and would need even more repair to fix the leakage problem.

Still, that leaves more than 300,000 gallons a day for which the city can't account. A consultant told the Westminster City Council that defective water meters are the likely culprit. Aging meters at the water plant may be misreading the actual amount of potable water going into the water lines. Residential meters, some of which date to 1937, also may be incorrectly measuring the water flow.

Water meters at the plant are to be replaced as well as the meters on the wells that draw the water. As for the residential meters, the council is exploring the possibility of upgrading them so they can be read by computer or telephone.

In South Carroll, some customers on the county's water system were surprised to find they were charged for oceans of water they never used. One family was billed for 190,000 gallons more than the meter showed. In these cases, it appears the meters either were never read or improper amounts had been fed into the computer.

While officials hope that replacing decrepit water meters resolves the short-term mystery of the disappearing drinking water, Carroll's commissioners are preparing for the long run with unprecedented legislation to help ensure against a shortage of pristine water in the future.

The legislation is designed to create water protection zones around wells and potential wells. Once the measure -- first proposed in 1991 -- is adopted, Carroll could be a model for the rest of the country.