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Panel to Review Health of Creek

Report Indicates Montgomery's Growth Is Damaging Waterways

A motorist passes through the ford on Old Baltimore Road in Boyds. In a report released last week, county scientists warn of substantial damage to the county waterways and few remaining fords if more development is allowed.
A motorist passes through the ford on Old Baltimore Road in Boyds. In a report released last week, county scientists warn of substantial damage to the county waterways and few remaining fords if more development is allowed. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009; Page C01

Cars and pickups make their way over Ten Mile Creek's clear waters to cross one of Montgomery County's few remaining fords, a peaceful oasis only a mile or so from the roar of Interstate 270.

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County officials knew more than 14 years ago the creek was a special place. They vowed to protect its fragile ecosystem even as they allowed major development, including a new jail and dense housing, in nearby rural Clarksburg. But now they face a daunting challenge.

County scientists, in a detailed report that crunches thousands of bits of data about sediment and runoff, microscopic organisms, water speed and unhealthy chemicals, suggest that the creek could be damaged substantially if more development is allowed.

Tomorrow, the County Council's environmental committee is scheduled to begin reviewing the report. The panel added the issue to its agenda after an article last week in The Washington Post outlined its findings and said officials had delayed publishing the report while they sought ways to better control sediment and runoff from construction in the hopes of allowing new development. County officials have since posted the report, and recommendations for better managing development, on the county's Web site.

In its many findings, the report says it is too soon to know whether damaged streams can recover and aquatic life can be restored, although the report's authors say they believe it is possible.

That uncertainty poses a challenge for county officials.

More than a decade ago, the county agreed to assess the health of waterways before allowing final development near Clarksburg, the last large undeveloped tract in the county. The council promised to revisit plans if the damage appeared too great.

Now, confronted with gloomy data that they can trace to years of construction in the area, officials must decide whether to build a county bus depot and allow more residential development near Ten Mile Creek. The creek is upstream from the region's drinking-water supply in the Potomac River, so its health is important to those who live beyond Montgomery's borders.

"The fragility of the Ten Mile Creek . . . was undeniable," the report says, noting some decline in the creek's health from nearby development and runoff from the jail.

Some County Council members are troubled by the report's findings and complained last week that they had been kept in the dark.

"This might affect our decision-making," said council President Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville). "I am concerned that we did not have timely access to this information." County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said through a spokesman last week that it had been a mistake to hold back the report.

Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) asked Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), the environmental committee's chairman, to include a discussion of the findings tomorrow. "This belatedly released water-quality report underscores the relationship of development to the degradation of our streams," he said.


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