The city of Aberdeen is waiting to hear whether it can withdraw water from Deer Creek, after the city's Public Works Department shut down four wells late last month because of perchlorate contamination.
The action is being sought under an emergency accord approved in December by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.
Susan Obleski, spokeswoman for the commission, said the agency received a letter Monday from Randolph Robertson, Aberdeen's public works director, informing the agency "that I will be coordinating with the Army to utilize the water" from Deer Creek.
The only problem, Obleski, said, is that the city may have circumvented the process approved by the commission for emergency withdrawals.
"According to our commission's approval, the process is that [the state Department of the Environment] orders a directive to the city" to shut down wells, Obleski said. Such a shutdown would trigger the emergency need for water.
Maryland environmental officials played down the letter Friday, describing it as putting everyone on notice that the city's water supply will likely fall short of demand once warmer weather arrives.
"At this point, it's not really an emergency," said spokesman Richard McIntire, adding that the department did not tell the city to shut down the wells and had not issued any directives.
McIntire said the city had been told in December to operate the wells as needed to control the perchlorate levels in finished drinking water. "They didn't have to get authorization from us" to shut wells down, he said.
City Manager Peter Dacey said the city closed Nos. 3, 8, 9 and 10 wells Feb. 21 after a pattern of increasing perchlorate levels was detected in each well.
All the levels in the raw well water were below 3 parts per billion, according to data. MDE's advisory level for perchlorate in finished drinking water is 1 part per billion -- a level the city's drinking water has hit twice but not risen above, Dacey said.
Perchlorate, a hazardous chemical used in rocket fuel and explosive devices, is present in all of the city's 11 wells along the Aberdeen Proving Ground boundary, Dacey said. Well No. 4, shut down in September for unrelated problems, remains closed.
With nearly half the wells in the field closed, Dacey said, the city asked for the withdrawal from Deer Creek to plan ahead for spring, when water consumption in the city will increase beyond capacity.
"We're trying to be smart about it," Dacey said.