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Downstream water study merits attention upstream

April 12, 2007

Maryland officials should pay close attention to a new regional commission's study on Northern Virginia's future water needs.

Why? Because the key water source for this growing metropolitan area in the same that supplies Washington County - the Potomac River.

According to The Associated Press, the study by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission will take four years. It was mandated by that state's legislature following the drought that hit that region between 1991 and 2002.

The study will consider the area's two major water sources - the Potomac River and the Occoquan Reservoir in Virginia - as well as groundwater resources.

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Once completed, the study's information will be used to plan for future droughts, population and commercial growth and disasters.

We raise this issue not to alarm readers, but to suggest that they begin looking at the Potomac River - and groundwater - as finite resources that must be used as wisely as possible.

In October 2002, the Washington County Commissioners declared a building moratorium because they feared large-scale development would deplete groundwater resources. Four years later, there has been no real study to determine how much water is there.

That same year, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin issued a report noting that in the event of a drought in the year 2030, continuing upstream development could leave the metropolitan Washington, D.C., suburbs without enough water.

This suggests that the next allocation of river water might be tougher to get approved and might depend on showing those who control the tap that this area is wisely using what it draws out now.

So, just as we've recommended that county officials look at the merger talks between Winchester and Frederick County, Va., they should also pay attention to Virginia's water study.

Just because neither idea originated locally doesn't mean that officials here couldn't learn something valuable by paying attention to what happens with them.

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