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Governors must re-visit plan to store more Potomac water

August 11, 1999

On Monday the governors of six mid-Altantic states held their own meeting at the National Governors' Conference to discuss long-term strategies for dealing with the worst drought in 30 years. We suggest they look back at what their predecessors did after a similar stretch of dry weather if the mid-1960s.

After that drought, the Army Corps of Engineers began putting together a controversial plan for a series of reservoirs designed to prevent flood damage and store water for times of low flow on the Potomac River.

The largest part of the project involved creation of a reservoir at Bloomington in Garrett County. The 952-acre lake is six miles long and took 11 years to complete, at a cost of more than $100 million. In mid-July, water from the reservoir was released to augment Potomac River flow for the first time ever, raising the river level by about a foot.

The Bloomington Dam project was just part of a series of Potomac River dams and impoundments that the Corps envisioned for flood control and recreation. Twenty-five years ago, those plans were largely abandoned because on the amount of farm land that would have been submerged, and because Western Maryland residents believed the project was designed mainly to provide water for residents of Washington, D.C.

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Following serious flooding in 1996, The Herald-Mail recommended a look back at the Corps' recommendations and at some other strategies, like buying properties in flood-prone areas and building additional farm ponds and stormwater runoff areas. Some of that - the property purchases - has been done, but we haven't seen much action on the other fronts.

The objections that stopped construction of additional dams and lakes 25 years ago should be re-examined in light of development that's taken place upstream since then. Though the projects would undoubtedly assist those downstream, this summer's dry weather should be ample evidence that storing large amounts of water for use during dry spells is not a luxury, but a necessity.

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