The county's first published tap water analysis of the Freedom District system has pronounced the supply that serves Carroll's most populated area safe and healthy.
"Water meets or exceeds established water-quality standards," says the four-page report required by the federal government. No violations were detected in any test category.
Nancy Reilman, division chief with the state's Safe Drinking Water Act In Implementation Division, said the Freedom system "complies with all standards."
In keeping with requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the county developed the consumer confidence report and spent $4,587 to print and mail about 7,500 copies to residents and businesses in South Carroll that rely on the Freedom water system.
Carroll draws as much as 3 million gallons daily from Liberty Reservoir, treats the water at its Freedom plant, then pumps it to about 21,000 residents.
The reservoir, a 43 billion-gallon lake that defines the southeastern end of Carroll County, serves 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area. Liberty is one of three reservoirs owned by Baltimore City.
"People who drink public water have a right to know its quality," said Ann L. Shearer, administrative associate with the county bureau of utilities, who prepared the report.
Federally funded surveys have shown many people have no knowledge of water quality or no trust in tap water, said Shearer. The report should bolster confidence in the public system, she said.
The system was tested for several types of contaminants, including inorganic, microbiological and volatile organic varieties, and chemicals.
Most analyses were done at the plant but lead and copper were tested at a laboratory in Frederick. Sixty randomly selected households in Eldersburg and Sykesville were also tested.
In most cases, results were based on annual averages developed from daily sampling.
"We had the state review all results to make sure we were on target," said Shearer.
Samples showed the water quality was significantly below the maximum contaminant level for every element tested.
"For every contaminant that shows up in the water supply, we develop a standard, based on categories determined by the Environmental Protection Agency," said Reilman.
The EPA prescribes limits on the amount of certain contaminants in public water systems. The Freedom supply did not reach those limits in any category.
Testing at the Freedom plant showed a nitrate level that did not exceed 1.80 parts per million. The EPA set the maximum acceptable level at 10 parts per million. Nitrate can enter the water supply through runoff from fertilizer, leaching from septic tanks or erosion of natural deposits.
Water samples were also tested for the presence of sodium and manganese, both of which are considered issues "primarily of taste and are not health-related," said Reilman.
Sodium levels were 15.4 parts per million, considered "very low," said Reilman. Manganese, which can cause discoloration, never exceeded 13 parts per billion, also rated low.
Lead content, often caused by corrosion of household plumbing systems, registered 7 parts per billion, less than half the established maximum.
For several years, residents noticed a change in water color whenever the lake rotated, a natural process that occurs in the fall and spring. The process kicks up sediment but does not affect water quality.
About two years ago, the county added sand filtration equipment to the plant's system. The equipment helps control sediment generated by the lake's rotation.
The report was the first of what will be annual publications detailing testing in Freedom and two smaller systems -- Pleasant Valley and Bark Hill -- that together serve less than 100 households. Results for next year will be published July 1.
"Testing has always been required, but the difference now is that we are required to report the findings to the public using the water," said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services.
Wayne Lewns, county utilities bureau chief, said his office had help from the Maryland Department of the Environment and compared notes with several other jurisdictions which were also preparing reports.
He has received no complaints or compliments from residents, he said.
"I would call our report second to none," said Lewns, a resident of Walkersville in Frederick County. "I got a note taped to my front door that said my water was OK and that was it for Walkersville."