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March 20, 2003

Whither Water? Or Are We Doomed To Repeat Ourselves

Alan Imhoff

The continuing saga of water, whether in The City of Frederick or around the county, continues to play to the how-did-we-get-in-this-mess mentality. For one thing, this is not a new problem, nor are some of the solutions. Anyone involved in this issue here in the city or county 20 years ago is either laughing privately or just plain shaking their head.

For those who were not involved or have not bothered to really pay attention, the water woes we face today are a direct result of electing officials over the past two decades who respond to our demands to fix things TODAY.

Very rarely do officials get elected on a platform to do the right thing for the next generation along with fixings things today. As an electorate we are so consumed with fixing things within a four-year election cycle that we have lost sight that many of things we want fixed will take six, 10, 20 years or more to achieve.

The average State Highway road project to build a new road from start to finish takes about 20 years. Unless it is "fast-tracked," then it might only take 10 years. Example: Route 85.

The average new Frederick County Public School takes about 10 years to have its doors opened to students from the time it is first identified as being required to the time construction is completed.

Most water or sewer treatment plants average 20 years or so to get through the maze of approvals, site acquisition and funding. Maybe a little less if just the expansion of an existing plant.

Planners and engineers know these time frames and do their best to educate a revolving set of elected officials every four years on the importance of maintaining a financial schedule to bring these items on line when needed. Sometimes it works. More often than not, it becomes another year-delay here or a two-year delay there as officials grapple with the demands to fix things today.

Back to whither water. This year marks the 20th anniversary, plus or minus a few years, on the concept to bring water from the Potomac River as part of a regional water and sewer plan that involved the county, the City of Frederick and Lake Linganore in the early 1980ís.

Over 20 years ago, planners and engineers knew this water supply was key to the continued growth and well being of the county. Now, with luck, and a tremendous amount of money, we are about four or five years away from achieving what we knew 20 years ago was needed. When completed, some say it may not be enough for the future and will only maintain water supply to the existing population, so other sources may need to be found.

If we conclude that the same logic and political process will prevail, one could argue, 20 years from now we could repeat the same scenario.

For the past 31 years, Frederick County has averaged 1,755 building permits a year. Of that, The City of Frederick for the past 27 years has averaged 581 permits. Assuming an average household of four, and say an average of 296.4 gallons a day per household, the city would need to plan for 172,208 gallons more a day for their 581 units each year. The county would need to find another 347,974 gallons a day for their 1,174 units. (Yes, there will be some wells allowed in the county, but not a significant number in the grand scheme of things.)

If the city were to find a source that produced 600,000 gallons a day, that in essence could build 581 units for approximately three and a half years. The county would need 1.2 million gallons to cover the same period for their housing units. Combined to support the historical growth in housing for three and a half years, new water sources will need to be in the range of two million gallons a day.

Of course, there are other needs such as business and commercial growth, but the engineers and planners know all about that, but do you? Or more importantly do our elected officials?

Whether we build at the historic average or something less, we need to look farther out than more three years. And we need to have the resolve to plan for it, and, most importantly, get it built on schedule. Then, when each new home receives its permit, the water is there and they pay for it.

By forward funding techniques like we use to build schools and collect impact fees, we can charge the appropriate tap fees for water hookup to a system designed to be ready when those who want to live here create the demand for the builders to accommodate them.



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