A commission studying Maryland's water supply has warned of future shortages unless the state acts now. The panel urges better land-use planning, increased monitoring of streams, wells and aquifers and improved regional cooperation. Del. Galen R. Clagett, a Frederick County Democrat who was instrumental in creating the Advisory Committee on the Management and Protection of the State's Water Resources, answered questions from staff writer Fredrick Kunkle.
Q At the height of Maryland's most recent drought, Michael G. Marschner, director of Frederick County's Division of Utilities and Solid Waste Management, said in testimony before Congress that the 20th century's wars over oil will be replaced by water wars in this century. Do you think he's right?
A I think he overstates it, but I think it's important maybe to overstate it to get people's attention. . . . Historically we just haven't paid attention to [water] because we're a large country and we have a great abundance of resources, and that's one of them. But I think now, east of the Mississippi, we're putting a real strain on these resources, and we have to be smarter about how we handle them.
What most concerned you about the commission's recommendations?
. . . One of the things we're concerned about is monitoring our water resources and protecting them, and that had to do primarily with surface water and aquifers, or groundwater. And that's been pretty lax. And I'm also concerned about the lack of coordination between all levels of government in terms of protecting and sourcing water.
Isn't it going to be tough to get people to pay attention to warnings about possible water shortages after a wet summer? Why should people worry?
It's like 'Remember the Alamo.' Remember the drought that the city of Frederick experienced? I think our best bet is to point up those kinds of conditions that really have an impact in terms of economic development and how we live our day-to-day lives. It's not an endless resource, and we have to be careful about what we do with it and how we use it.
Are you concerned that the Potomac River's supply could eventually be overstretched?
Absolutely. That's a major concern. . . . I think right now, most people are asleep at the wheel on this issue, and that's why there's not been a whole lot of attention paid to the report. . . . We're lucky we have the Potomac River and the Monocacy River [in Frederick County], but that's not going to last forever. And, of course, the Potomac -- a lot of people are after the Potomac River water. We think Maryland needs to do some work with Virginia to coordinate that effort as well, so we don't overtax the Potomac River.
How are the two states working together, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that Virginia does not need Maryland's regulatory approval to withdraw water from the Potomac River?
I think one of the recommendations of the committee was to have Maryland initiate discussions with Virginia to establish a coordinated permit-review process. And I think that will happen.
The advisory committee's report notes that guaranteeing adequate water supplies has been made more challenging by a 35 percent increase in Maryland's population between 1970 and 2000, and an expected 20 percent jump by 2030. Should the government study ways to slow population growth, perhaps by reducing immigration?
There may come a time when we have to look at immigration, but we never have had to do that before. . . . But at this point, I think it's more important to look at how we grow, how we stack people in, how we use our land and water -- [that] would be more important than limiting the number of people who come here, because in a sense we are stymieing progress when we limit immigration.