Carroll County can make improvements to its Freedom Water Treatment Plant at Liberty Reservoir but cannot draw more water to serve its most populous area.
The county plans to install nearly $1 million in new equipment, including $600,000 for a second solids contact chamber, in the 30-year-old filtration plant in Eldersburg. The improvements would make the plant capable of delivering more water to South Carroll residents, who have endured three consecutive summers of shortages, said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services.
But Baltimore City, which owns the 45-billion-gallon lake and the surrounding watershed, will not allow the county to increase its daily allocation of 3 million gallons or to proceed with plant expansion.
The city is withholding those approvals until Carroll reaffirms its commitment to protecting the watershed. To get more water from the city, Carroll must add its endorsement to a long-standing agreement signed by Baltimore and the metropolitan counties that use the reservoir.
"Approval of plant expansion and increased raw water withdrawal rates is contingent on Carroll County's agreement to abide by the current Reservoir Watershed Protection Agreement," George L. Winfield, city director of public works, wrote in a March 30 letter to J. Michael Evans, his counterpart in Carroll.
When Winfield gave the new equipment a go-ahead, Carroll officials hailed that action as a breakthrough in negotiations.
"This is a major step in the right direction," said Evans. "We have been at loggerheads over this for two years."
At Evans' urging, the county commissioners decided yesterday to put the equipment contract out to bid.
"We should go forward with final designs, while everybody is in the mood to say 'yes,' " Evans said. "This approval opens the door for the next stage of negotiations."
New equipment is the initial step in a $5 million plan to expand the plant that supplies about 18,000 residents and businesses in South Carroll with water. If the county is to meet the increasing demands on the plant, it needs to nearly double its daily draw.
Carroll is the only metropolitan jurisdiction that has refused to ratify the environmental pact. Discussions to reword the agreement continue, but the work is arduous, officials said.
"We are still trying to work out issues with other signatories and trying as a county to change the language," said Max Bair, administrative assistant to the Carroll commissioners.
"We drink that water and are not going to pollute it. We have worked conscientiously to assure water quality throughout the county. We are hopeful that we can assure an understanding of our position and make an agreement that all can live with," he said.
Liberty Reservoir supplies water to about 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area, and local governments must work to preserve the integrity of the 160 square miles surrounding the lake, as outlined in the agreement, said Baltimore officials.
The three county commissioners have refused to sign the agreement, saying the pact stymies their ability to develop local industry and restricts use of nearly half the land area in Carroll.
"We can't roll over and let the city and Baltimore County be in charge of zoning our watershed," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said last month. "We can't give up our right to future planning."
The solids contact chamber, a large concrete tank with inlets and outlets, will create added protection for Liberty's water quality and demonstrate Carroll's commitment, said Horst.
"The new equipment is critical to meet existing and future standards," said Horst. "This is filtration that eliminates bacteria that cannot be killed by chlorination."
It will more efficiently separate solids from water that is discharged into the lake.
"This equipment is protection strategy in itself," Horst said. "It will give us the clearest possible water to put back into the lake."
The chamber could be in service by the end of summer, he said.