Sewer capacity said to be keeping up with development

February 02, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ


A breakfast forum Wednesday morning at the Plaza Hotel asked, "Development in Washington County: Is it limited by sewer capacity?"

The short answer was "yes," if all buildable areas are developed right away, according to Greg Murray, the director of Washington County's Department of Water Quality.

That extreme scenario, known as "full buildout," could require 50,000 to 70,000 "equivalent dwelling units" of sewage capacity, Murray said.

One equivalent dwelling unit, or EDU, is what it takes to serve a typical house: approximately 200 gallons a day, he said.

The county's limit is about 35,000 EDUs now; by the time full buildout occurred, that might go up to about 40,000 EDUs, Murray said.


However, the pace of development is far less, which allows the county to keep up with its needs, said Michael Thompson, Washington County's planning director.

Thompson said the rate of growth in Washington County - about 2 percent to 4 percent - is slower than in other places he has worked, including Frederick County, Md., and Wyoming.

In the West, he said, there can be an added challenge of trying to secure water rights from people who don't live in the community.

Murray said development projects currently "in the pipeline" in the county are expected to require about 8,500 EDUs.

Murray said the county uses a "bubble concept" to funnel greater capacity to areas that are growing more rapidly.

The discussion of development packed a meeting room at the hotel. The forum was part of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's "Eggs & Issues" series.

During an interview after his presentation, Murray said regulations have changed local governments' approach to providing sewer service.

Years ago, if a municipality needed more sewer capacity, it got a state permit and built another plant.

"Money would fix it," he said.

About six years ago, new Chesapeake Bay protection initiatives limited the amount of nutrients that municipalities could produce, which meant a cap on new sewer plants, Murray said.

Thompson told the audience that school capacity sometimes is a bigger obstacle to growth than sewer capacity.

Thompson said that while the Department of Water Quality monitors the technical end of sewer service, his office takes a broad look at development and its effect on the county's well-being.

"We have to have growth," he said. "Otherwise, we could have a community that could die."

The key, he said, is where the development goes.

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