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Editorial - Saving rain for drier days

July 27, 1997

It didn't win approval from Frederick County's volunteer fire companies, but Commissioner Mark Hoke's proposal to have firefighters haul water to drought-parched farm fields did get us thinking about the problem that seems to plague this region year after year. We're speaking about rainfall, or lack of it. Sometimes the region gets too much; at other times, like now, we don't get enough.

When there's too much rain in too short a time, we get flash floods that damage roads and bridges and in some cases, take lives. When there's not enough, towns must restrict water usage and crops shrivel in the fields. If only we could save some of those heavy rains for the dry times.

It's not impossible, but it probably wouldn't be cheap. The Bloomington Dam, built on the upper Potomac, cost $100 million in the early 1970s; a similar dam might cost twice that today.

What holds more promise, at a lower cost, is something Rep. Roscoe Bartlett suggested in a meeting with the Corps of Engineers - a series of smaller ponds and impoundments. Directing water to them through storm drain systems, instead of allowing it to flow away quickly and swell streams and the river, would not only minimize flood damage, but also provide a water reserve that farmers and/or municipalities could draw on in dry times.

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The construction costs shouldn't be a problem, because the federal government ought to be glad to help with a system that would prevent flood damage and crop failures, not to mention minimizing the paperwork involved with the emergency aid for such disasters.

A more daunting obstacle today would be the liability involved if an impoundment wall collapsed, or worse, if someone drowned in a pond. When such things happened 40 years ago, folks figured it was God's will, shed tears at the grave and went on with life. Today they'd sue, and not just to cover the funeral costs.

These are tough issues, no doubt. But the payoff for dealing with them successfully would be a stronger agriculture industry and fewer people hurt by flooding. We urge Rep. Bartlett and other to look at how the area can save rainwater for the dry days.

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