Mount Airy's water commission is pushing for an ordinance that would shut down development in the water-deficient town that straddles the border of Carroll and Frederick counties.
Councilman John Woodhull and members of the town's water commission have called for a growth moratorium until a new water source is secured to ward off an impending deficit. Woodhull is drafting an ordinance that could be adopted as soon as March, if it is approved by the Town Council.
The 8,500-resident town consumes 715,000 gallons of water per day, less than 10,000 gallons from the maximum amount its wells can safely yield, Woodhull said.
"If we do not agree on a new source of water - or maybe there is nothing out there we can afford - then we are in a much better position if we stop building now so we can live within our 'income,'" Woodhull said. "If we continue to build, we are living on credit."
Such water woes have come to a head in Carroll County, which like Frederick, depends on increasingly unstable groundwater wells.
Mayor Frank M. Johnson and other members of the town's water commission were to attend yesterday's countywide water summit, planning to speak about the town's need to test for more groundwater.
As the county ramps up decades-long plans to build a reservoir at nearby Gillis Falls, Johnson said Mount Airy has received county permission to test for groundwater wells on land in the Gillis Falls watershed.
Several Carroll municipalities are grappling with shortages that could threaten residential and economic development.
A building moratorium remains in effect in Westminster, which faces a water deficit of up to 900,000 gallons per day, based on current demand. City officials say they are trying to negotiate an agreement with the state to allow a limited amount of building to resume.
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge acknowledged that water is Carroll's most pressing issue in the state of the county speech.
"It is a serious problem, and we need to understand how it has escalated," Gouge said. "You have heard the expression: 'Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.' "
The county hopes to move ahead on two long-planned reservoirs, but those efforts could take at least 10 years to construct, Gouge said. Mount Airy has considered building a direct intake into nearby Gillis Falls, where Carroll hopes to construct one of the reservoirs.
"We really need to develop a comprehensive regional plan," Rita Misra, a member of Mount Airy's water commission, said. "A town cannot do it on its own."
Representatives from Carroll's eight municipalities came together yesterday to brainstorm solutions at a water summit that also dealt with the changing nature of water rights in Maryland and other states.
Residential developers continue to eye the growing crisis in Westminster and Mount Airy. When Mount Airy's water commission recommended the moratorium at a recent Town Council meeting, several developers were among the crowd.
Robert Scranton, a local developer who planned to build 275 homes on a farm annexation that was ultimately rejected, was among them.
The state has temporarily allowed Mount Airy to draw 850,000 gallons per day, but that allotment is contingent on finding a new source soon.
Proposed options - drawing from the south branch of the Patapsco River, tapping into Frederick County's pipeline to the Potomac or the Gillis Falls intake - would start at $10 million in estimated costs.
Council members said Mount Airy lacks that kind of capital.
"We do not really have a water problem here," Councilman David Pyatt said. "We have a money problem."
Mayor Johnson, a slow-growth advocate, has said the state would allow Mount Airy to withdraw an additional 50,000 gallons of water per day from its wells. But he agreed that any development should not jeopardize quality of life for those already settled in the town.
"I am not willing to have current residents suffer possible water shortages to support more building," Johnson said. "But where do you draw the line, and what process do we go through?"