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Growth Stresses Harford Stream

July 21, 2008

By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Jul. 19–Deer Creek will be increasingly stressed by population growth in the next two decades, much of it caused by expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground because of BRAC, according to a new regional study.

The communities that rely on Deer Creek should develop additional water sources, the study by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission said. The Deer Creek watershed, a 171-square-mile area that begins in York County, Pa., and continues through Harford County to the Susquehanna River, includes a 73-mile stream that supplies about 50,000 people with water. The area will likely experience a nearly 25 percent population spurt through 2025, officials said.

Aberdeen Proving Ground gets its water from Aberdeen, which is allowed to draw as much as 1.5 million gallons a day from the creek. All the water drawn by Aberdeen goes to the Army base. BRAC, the nationwide military base realignment program, is expected to bring as many as 10,000 jobs to APG in the next few years.

“We turned our water system over to the city, and it is obligated to provide us water, no matter where it comes from,” said George Mercer, an APG spokesman.

Aberdeen, which uses wells to supply water to its residents, is reviewing options, including desalinating water from the Chesapeake Bay, to increase the water supply, said Matthew M. Lapinsky, the city’s public works director.

“We realize what is happening, and are looking at ways to make sure we have a sustainable supply for the future,” Lapinsky said. “The Army is our customer. We have to sustain its needs, and Deer Creek may not be the option to do that.”

“People see the creek flowing and know the water is easy to treat,” said Andrew Dehoff, planning and operations director for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a group that spent the past two years preparing the water availability study. “They see all kinds of possibilities, but the creek has its limitations.”

The commission is advising communities along the creek to augment their systems with alternative sources, so that in times of prolonged drought the water supply is not disrupted. Current users are not at risk because everyone on the Deer Creek system has a backup plan for when creek flow drops, Dehoff said.

“People have to be aware that Deer Creek is not reliable as a year-round supply and may not be there all the time,” Dehoff said.

Last summer, flow in the creek dropped so low that the city had to switch to the Harford County water system, which relies primarily on Loch Raven Reservoir, for several weeks to continue supplying the Army post. After the drought in the summer of 2002, flow in the creek did not return to adequate levels until well into 2003, officials said.

“We had to use backup water last year, and that’s a trend that will probably continue,” Lapinsky said. “The study gave all of us a lot of insight into Deer Creek, and it shows that it is an interruptable supply.”

The city’s request a few years ago to draw more water from the creek helped initiate the study, said Susan Obleski, spokeswoman for the commission. Several jurisdictions, including Harford County and Aberdeen, as well as community groups, participated.

“The study helped determine if Deer Creek could be a viable source,” she said. “What we found is that is should not be considered as a sole source. We can’t stress enough the impact of drought on Deer Creek.”

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