County and municipal leaders are moving forward with a partnership that would establish one regional water system and consolidate the myriad facilities that now supply Harford's homes and businesses.
County Executive David R. Craig, with support from the mayors of the three municipalities, will seek a $300,000 state grant to fund a consultant's study of the regional water supply.
The research will focus on benefits, costs and drawbacks to joining the systems under one authority. Pooled resources will maximize the assets and save on operations and maintenance costs, officials said. Consolidation might increase the supply and contain development to areas with public utilities, officials said.
"It is time for the county, the three municipalities and Aberdeen Proving Ground to cooperate on the production and filtration of water to ensure all residents have a potable source of water for the long term," Craig said Thursday during a press conference at the Abingdon Water Treatment Plant, a facility slated for an expansion that would double its daily capacity to 20 million gallons.
In addition to the Abingdon plant, the county also pumps water from facilities in Perryman and Havre de Grace, each of which can supply 5 million gallons a day.
"Ultimately, we will need about 50 million gallons a day by 2025," said Robert Cooper, county director of public works.
BRAC, the nationwide military base expansion, is expected to bring about 10,000 more jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground in the next few years. The county will be making many changes to its infrastructure to handle that growth.
The county system supplies about 42,000 homes and businesses with water. It draws as much as 10 million gallons a day from Baltimore City's Loch Raven Reservoir and treats the water at Abingdon.
A recent purchase of 70 acres adjacent to the plant on Abingdon Road will allow an expansion that will double the current capacity to 20 million gallons daily. The centrally located property offers enough space to house additional equipment that could extend the daily capacity to 40 million gallons.
Havre de Grace also has an ample supply for city residents with the Susquehanna River at its doorstep and its own treatment plant, but city officials are willing to join the consolidation effort.
"I am excited to get the results of the study," said Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty. "This is a great opportunity for governments to come together and work in partnership for the benefit of all our citizens."
Bel Air and Aberdeen would likely reap the most benefit from a regional system. In times of drought, both must rely on the county system to meet the increased demand for water.
Bel Air and the two systems that supply APG rely on streams that are subject to the vagaries of weather. Last summer, the stream flow dropped so low that all three systems were connected to the county's supply.
"This study will look at the possibilities we have for more water," said Bel Air Mayor Robert Preston. "We need to participate in anything we can do to protect the watershed."
Aberdeen, which has nearly reached its daily water capacity, also had to connect to the county system last summer. The city must find more resources, if it is to grow and meet the demands of BRAC, Aberdeen Mayor Michael Bennett said.
"You have to have water to develop, and we have to develop because we are at ground zero for BRAC," said Bennett. "This will be a coordinated effort with the greater good in mind."
Aberdeen is reviewing several costly options to increase its water supply, including a proposal for constructing a desalinization plant that would treat water drawn from the Chesapeake Bay.
"That is a long-term option that is not off the plate," said Bennett. "A coordinated effort could help us with that."
The consolidation study, which could take about a year, will decide the viability of the plan and make recommendations on how to implement it, Craig said. The next phase of the project would create a water authority.
"The study will tell us how to handle the assets and liabilities of each jurisdiction," Craig said.