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Berkeley County to join strategic water plan

March 06, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Outside, icicles were dripping, snow was melting and runoff could be heard sluicing through the gutters and spouts of the Dunn Building.

Inside, water was a topic of discussion during a recent Berkeley County Commission meeting, when the commissioners were asked to contribute $9,782 for a regional strategic plan dealing with surface and groundwater sources in the Eastern Panhandle and Virginia.

The commission voted unanimously to approve a resolution in favor of the strategic plan, which also included granting the funding.

Primary goals of the strategic plan - which will be put together by members of the Virginia-based Regional Water Resources Policy Committee - are:

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· Water supply sustainability - Ensuring the valley's water supply and demand are balanced.

· Water quality - Making sure enough water is available to support residential, business and agricultural needs without sacrificing the needs of fish and other aquatic life.

· Natural systems - Protecting and enhancing natural systems that are integral to water resources protection, including karst geography, vegetative buffers, forests and wetlands.

· Planning and regional cooperation - Achieving a broad regional consensus on the direction of water resources policy, planning and management.

· Education/Stewardship - Having well-informed conservation-minded citizens, business people and elected officials who actively are involved in promoting water resources stewardship.

· Recreational access - Ensuring reasonable public access to the valley's water resources while respecting the need to protect water quality and the rights of private property owners.

Secondary goals include enhancing the valley's agriculture and open space heritage connections to water resource stewardship; providing leaders and citizens with accessible, reliable and objective information and scientific data about water; providing or obtaining the financial resources needed to meet the valley's water resources goals; and enhancing the valley's economy by protecting and wisely using water resources, according to information distributed to the commissioners.

Overall, the plan is expected to cost $90,000, said John R. Staelin, chair of the Regional Water Resources Policy Committee. A $25,000 grant has been obtained.

Funding is being requested based on population, with each participating jurisdiction asked to pay a little more than 12 cents per resident. Berkeley County's contribution was based on its population of 81,262 in 2002.

Once the plan is complete, local officials can remain a part of the team, complete further work on their own or reject the plan entirely. There's no long-term commitment, Staelin said.

Staelin said the impetus behind the plan was the recent drought, which caused water levels to drop - severely in some areas. Statistics show a drought happens every 23 years; the strategic plan could help prepare for the next one, Staelin said.

Along with groundwater sources, surface water sources in Berkeley and Jefferson counties also are to be included in the plan. No Maryland water sources are included.

Bill Stubblefield has been attending meetings of the Regional Water Resources Policy Committee for about a year and a half on behalf of the Berkeley County Commission.

"Water is going to be one of our more critical commodities," Stubblefield said, noting that people either must pay to have water from the Berkeley County Public Service Water District or pay costs associated with having a well.

Finding and maintaining water sources is important, given the county's rapid growth.

Stubblefield said that Maryland is not part of the study, in part because the topography is different.

The Eastern Panhandle and Virginia share karst topography, which means that aquifers refill more quickly, but that the water is not as filtered as groundwater found in other areas. Also, he said, the amount and quality of water found in karst topography greatly varies, even from one section of the county to another, Stubblefield said.

County Commissioner Steve Teufel said the study could affect growth and planning for future construction.

The study might show that growth will outpace the county's water supplies, he said.

During the drought of 2002, the southern part of Berkeley County was one day away from running out of water, while a spring in Hedgesville dropped 50 percent of its output overnight, Stubblefield said.

Numerous private wells also ran dry.

Protecting water supplies for current residents is important, given that with a drought, it's a question of when - not if - the next one will occur.

"Mother Nature controls that. We don't," Teufel said.

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