Thirsty Carroll considers tapping Piney Run Lake


With no foreseeable end to water shortages in southern Carroll County, the county commissioners are revisiting plans to tap Piney Run Lake as a source for drinking water.

"We're getting more numbers on the cost to see how it would affect the users," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who hopes to discuss the project with her colleagues this week.

The project would require the county to build a treatment plant at the 300-acre man-made lake in Sykesville, which is used primarily for recreation.

Carroll County owns the lake, which holds 900 million gallons of water considered easily treatable.

The plant would be designed to treat as much as 6 million gallons a day, twice the capacity of the Freedom plant at Liberty Reservoir. That reservoir, owned by Baltimore City, is the primary water source for South Carroll, home to about 28,000 people. It is Carroll's most populous area.

The fast-growing South Carroll area has endured three consecutive summers of water shortages.

Weather forecasts, which predict a dry summer, and expected increases in demand have prompted discussions about a moratorium on home construction.

Frustated by city and state

South Carroll needs more than the 3 million gallons a day the city allows the county to draw from Liberty Reservoir. The aging treatment plant there also needs upgrades. But an allocation increase and plant expansion are stalled in negotiations with the city.

Carroll's other proposed sources of water -- a series of wells on state-owned land at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville and another single, high-yield well along Route 32 on property owned by Fairhaven Retirement Community -- are on hold.

The state promised a permit for the Fairhaven well two months ago but has not issued it.

Tired of "begging the city and state for water," Frazier said Piney Run should be brought on line.

The $15 million project, which would include a plant, access road and pipelines, was shelved about five years ago in favor of the less costly wells and plant expansion at Liberty.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said Piney Run could be a viable option.

"We could make the Freedom plant bigger -- it would satisfy our needs now -- but I would prefer to look way into the future and find a long-term solution," Dell said. "That's why we are looking at the Piney Run plant."

J. Michael Evans, county director of public works, said he would not expect the commissioners to decide on Piney Run until the end of the month.

"They're waiting for information on funding options," he said.

Funding an issue

Evans said he remains optimistic the state will soon issue a permit for the Fairhaven well.

Tests have shown that the well could deliver 340,000 gallons a day. With that much water available, the county would be able to serve 6,700 homes and businesses in South Carroll for at least three years, Evans said.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she's not sure Piney Run is the solution to the South Carroll water problems. She has asked the state to act on the permit as soon as possible.

"We have to proceed with caution," Gouge said.

"Piney Run is going to be a very expensive proposition," she said. "Our own consultants have recommended that we go with wells for the time being."

Evans agreed: "The long-range strategy is to use somebody else's water and save our own."

No matter which option the county chooses -- to expand at Liberty or build a new Piney Run plant -- it will probably take at least three years to resolve South Carroll's water troubles.

The county spent about $1.5 million on design plans for the Piney Run project six years ago. Those plans could be tweaked and reused, said Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services.

Water at the lake is constantly tested for quality.

"Testing of Piney Run is continuous to make sure that future design and treatment match the water coming into the system," said Horst.

"We forever monitor the health of the lake so when it does come on line, we have as few as possible start-up problems. We have encountered nothing so far that would warrant any problems."

If Carroll moves forward with the plant, Horst said the county could find itself at the mercy of the state, which controls all water allocations.

It is plausible that "even if the commissioners made a decision, the state would not give them a permit," said Horst.

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