County towns feud over water policy

June 24, 1997


Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - As the water level in Boonsboro's reservoir has dropped, tensions have risen over neighboring Keedysville's water policy.

For the second day on Tuesday, Boonsboro used fire tankers to haul water from Hagerstown's system to the town's reservoir.

Boonsboro and Keedysville share a water system, but while Boonsboro has banned all outdoor water use since Friday, Keedysville has placed no restrictions on its customers.

"That's really one of the problems. When you put on a water ban, both towns really should follow it," said David Baker, the superintendent of Boonsboro's water and sewer system. "It's always been a problem."


Keedysville Mayor Ralph B. Taylor, however, said the town bears no responsibility for Boonsboro's problems. He said Boonsboro uses about two-thirds of the water pumped from Keedysville's spring.

"We furnish them with a lot of water," he said. "We can't give them any more than that."

Taylor said the town pays Boonsboro $21,000 a year to run the pumps. The water Boonsboro gets is free, he said.

Taylor said a ban would not help Boonsboro since Boonsboro already is pumping as much water as the pumps will allow. What's more, he said, Keedysville residents have already cut back on outdoor water use, making a formal ban unnecessary.

"It wouldn't make any difference," he said. "We don't have to have it (ban) because people realize it."

Boonsboro has issued water bans in the past, but the town has never before been in such a precarious position. Town officials say they cannot remember the last time the town had to buy water from an outside source.

Hagerstown Water Department Manager Gene Walzl said the city is treating Boonsboro like any other customer. The town is being charged a rate of $1.71 per 1,000 gallons up to 33,333 gallons. After that, the rate drops to $1.56 per 1,000 gallons.

Walzl said he cannot recall the city ever selling water on an emergency basis to any other town, except Smithsburg, which has a hookup to Hagerstown's system.

To get the water to the reservoir, tankers from at least six volunteer fire companies hooked up to a fire hydrant at the end of Hagerstown's system on Roxbury Road.

Walzl said the city can spare the water since it draws from a relatively stable source: the Potomac River.

"I'm not saying we have an inexhaustible supply, but it's pretty sure we're not going to run out of water," he said.

Baker said Tuesday the water level in the 19 1/2-foot reservoir had dropped about 6 feet at its worst point. On Tuesday, it was down about 5 1/2 feet.

The situation is considered critical any time it drops more than 3 feet, he said.

Baker said the town had no choice but to turn to Hagerstown. He said he was not even sure how much it would cost.

"I need water," he said. "When you need something, you can't argue price."

Contributing factors

Several factors have combined to put Boonsboro in a dry spot.

The first is weather. Baker said the town has gotten little rain over the last few months. When it does not rain, he said usage tends to increase because more people water their lawns and gardens.

"They love to see that green grass," he said.

When demand increases, Baker said it outstrips the town's ability to pump water into its reservoir.

The system gets water from three sources: about 144,000 gallons a day from the Warrenfeltz spring; about 100,800 gallons a day from the Graystone well; and about 208,000 a day from the Keedysville spring.

In addition, that capacity has remained the same for about the last seven years, Baker said, but development has strained the system. There are more customers than ever - about 2,500 in Boonsboro and 500 in Keedysville.

Boonsboro also has run into problems with state regulators. Baker said the well at the Crestview development could produce 100,000 gallons a day - more than enough to solve the current shortage.

But the Maryland Department of Environment has refused to allow officials to pump the well until they build a $3.1 million filtration system. Town officials repeatedly have expressed frustration with the mandate, since it is intended to prevent possible, not actual, contamination.

"But the state says there's a possibility something could go wrong," Baker said. "Just like there's a possibility the roof could cave in on you before you can get out of the building."

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