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Water Availability & Beck: Dipping a Toe into Hydrogeology

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

Statement of David Pyatt, P.E. (ret) to Mount Airy Town Council, 11/7/22

I did groundwater environmental water contamination work for several decades.   I was a 12-year member of the Carroll County Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) and did graduate work in hydrogeology as part of this activity.


Few people understand the significant risks involved with Town's current policy in allowing water development (and other adequate public facility ordinance (APFO) issues) to be after the "concept plan" is approved by the Council for the Beck Property—as well as other sites--and the number of development units is fixed at that level.  The Town potentially opens itself needlessly to litigation if the "Pre-Concept" numbers of units is unattainable.  It is likely the current MXD zoning and APFO process is inconsistent with the Federal Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251), originally passed in 1974 and is still the foundation for both water purity and water allocation.

The Town in the building boom of 1990-2005 required water capacity must be assured with pumping tests and site reviews before the development would proceed. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has spent over 20 years analyzing the Town's (along with other cities in the Piedmont Region) fractured rock aquifers.  In 2008, MDE incorporated the "Brinkley Bill" which gives them enhanced ability to control how municipalities can add water supply.

(modified from "Heath, Ralph C., 1984, Ground-water regions of the United States, USGS WSP 2242")

Mr. Robert Peoples, Director of MDE Water Allocations, who I spoke with as a private citizen on August 3rd and again on November 2nd, stressed how critical the pumping data and site information is in assessing water allocation.  He was quite concerned that our Town Code would allow this development process to go on in our existing manner.  He said most municipalities (particularly those in the fractured rock area) require water allocation by MDE to be assured prior to site approval.

There is still considerable conservatism in MDE's judgment of allowable pumping capacity allocation for a given well because of the complexity of fractured rock aquifers, nearby wells, and sources of contamination.  There is also the possibility of a gasoline truck or a chemical truck accident along the high traffic flow highway, Route 27, splitting Beck East and Beck West.  If a traffic light is at the intersection of Rte 27 and Center Street, a truck accident is even more likely. Additional acreage likely should also be allocated and analyzed to serve for recharge because of nearby wells, and the potential of a chemical spill might eliminate many well sites on a given parcel.

On my November 2nd conversation with Mr. Peoples, I mentioned the October 24th Beck pre-concept plan showing three possible well locations on Center Street extended.  Two sites are adjacent (only one could be counted for), and the third site was roughly 800 ft. away. MDE typically does not like wells to be closer than 1000 feet, so there is a very good chance that the well capacity on the plan could not support 582 residential units.   However, we will not know until MDE does their final review. 

Councilman Karl Munder in September developed a draft Ordinance (2022-25) that considers acreage using the Town’s formula to be dedicated to Parks and allows for a fair amount of water recharge land to be set aside.  Ordinance 2022-25 would suggest a maximum number of units to be 250-350, well below the 582 units the Developer is proposing.  While, many on the Planning Commission argued this was too conservative, and recommended not supporting this Ordinance, the need for assurance of water capacity is a key component of the Clean Water Act, and this trumps potential over-development.

There is an ideal well site on Beck West that is free of most of the problems that are apparent in the Beck East site plan.  It is (just) over 1,000 feet from a Town production well in Watkins Park.  Unfortunately, it is almost dead center of the proposed Center Street location.  This excludes its use if Center Street is ever developed which ironically was the genesis and heart of the MXD Zoning in the Town.

The odds of a suitable water supply in Beck East, one that could supply 582 residential dwellings and some commercial usages as well, are probably significantly less than 50/50. I say this based on my experience as previous Council liaisons with the Water and Sewer Department and Planning Commission and my engineering and hydrological background and includes negotiations with MDE during the drought of the early 2000s. The Town is left with a Hobson’s choice—and one they can’t seem to grasp-- between which end to achieve and what to sacrifice.  Obviously, water capacity and viability has to have priority. The odds of ever achieving MXD and Center Street extension are quite low with this plan.

Note: "The Fractured Rock region is divided into four physiographic provinces including the Piedmont, Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, and Appalachian Plateau. Water availability in the fractured rock region is localized and depends upon the size of fractures and interconnections between fractures. Much of the groundwater is stored in weathered bedrock, or saprolite, which overlies the solid rock. In terms of supply, the fractured rock aquifers are highly irregular in both distribution and storage, and are strongly tied to climatic influences due to their shallow depth." (Source: Comprehensive Assessment of Water Supply in Maryland: Background,

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