Nearly 2,000 people filled Piney Run Park in Sykesville yesterday during a rally to save the lake in the 800-acre park from Carroll County's plan to use it as a water supply.
Most were there to oppose construction of a $14 million plant that could draw as much as 3 million gallons a day from the 2 billion-gallon lake.
They signed petitions demanding that Carroll seek alternative water sources before tapping Piney Run Lake. They carried "Save the Lake" signs and nearly depleted the stacks of information made available by the Freedom Area Citizens Council, a community group that sponsored the rally.
"This is not just a basin filled with water ready to be tapped," said Jennifer DeArmey, a former park manager. "We are attending this rally to show how important this lake is to our quality of life."
Many attending the rally were already well-educated about issues regarding the lake, which Carroll built more than 30 years ago as a reservoir for its most populated and rapidly growing area. The park has since become a favorite recreation spot.
About 100,000 visitors come to the South Carroll park annually, park officials said. A typical sunny summer Sunday usually draws about 500 picnickers, boaters, anglers and hikers.
"What is here cannot be matched anywhere [in Carroll County] or in nearby counties, not the trails or the multiuse this park sees," said Barry Hoskins of Sykesville. "This has become a natural resource for us. If this lake were big enough to become a long-term source, I might agree, but the average depth here is 10 feet. This lake is a jewel and you cannot tax it with a daily withdrawal of water."
Many are convinced that a daily draw of water will cause irreparable harm to the park, the lake and the wildlife.
At age 13, Cathy Caviglia of Marriottsville was too young to sign the petition but she easily explained why she wanted to.
"If they take water out of here every day, the level will fluctuate," she said. "That will hurt fish and wildlife."
Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, who did not attend the rally, voted last year to build the treatment plant on Piney Run Lake to ease the water shortage in South Carroll, home to nearly 30,000 people.
Fellow Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, keynote speaker at the rally, dissented. She favors expanding the county's plant on Liberty Reservoir and constructing a series of high-yield wells.
The crowd cheered when Gouge said, "We have alternatives. We should take our time to make a decision and protect this water."
Liberty Reservoir, a 45 billion-gallon lake owned by Baltimore, straddles Carroll's southeastern border. The county can draw 3 million gallons a day from Liberty Reservoir, water it treats at its 30-year-old plant on the edge of the lake. But the plant must be expanded and upgraded to meet the impending demand. Within 10 years, Carroll could need 6 million gallons a day, county planners said.
In times of drought, such as those that have occurred in three of the past four summers, South Carroll has endured bans on outdoor water use. In its search for more water, the county settled on the Piney Run option.
"This lake was always intended as a reservoir and was part of the planning to serve the water needs," said Harvey Tegeler of Taneytown, one of the few at the rally who favored the county's plan. "People are getting emotional about this issue. I have been all around the world and I have seen many lakes that serve as a water source and as recreation."
Barry Huey Jr. of Sykesville said using Piney Run Lake could end Carroll's dependence on Baltimore and would provide the county with a backup water source.
"Do people really believe Dell and Frazier want to kill our lake?" Huey asked. "A treatment plant here puts us in control of our own destiny."
Robert Aune, who lives within walking distance of Piney Run, disagreed. Liberty Reservoir has more than enough water to provide for South Carroll's residents, he said.
"Piney Run is not deep enough or big enough to be a reservoir," Aune said. "Anything that minimizes it will take away from what people enjoy about it."
Baltimore, however, will not allow Carroll to expand its treatment plant at Liberty Reservoir and withdraw additional water until the county endorses a longstanding water protection agreement. Carroll has not signed the pact since 1996.
"Let's sign the agreement," Gouge said. "We would be saying to all of you and to the surrounding areas that we are concerned about watershed protection."
"I hope we have made a difference," said Pam Seiter of Eldersburg. "We certainly have shown we can rally the forces in this area."