Water is biggest issue at electricity plant hearing

Residents worry about strain on system

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sharon Segner had gotten away with saying it thus far, but when the director of a new power plant project planned for Waldorf stated Tuesday that her company’s project would either use recycled effluent or ‘‘use no water at all,” members of the public called her out.

Segner’s opening statement at a Tuesday night public hearing held by the Maryland Public Service Commission set the stage for a few citizens to question what impact the power plant would have on the region’s water supply.

‘‘I understand that there was an assertion that this will have no impact on groundwater,” said Margaret Schmid, representing the Moyaone Reserve neighborhood of Accokeek.

Schmid disputed this claim, stating that drawdown in the Upper Patapsco aquifer by Charles County’s public Waldorf wells was already causing wells in her neighborhood to run dry.

‘‘We are very gravely concerned about the impact this is going to have on groundwater,” Schmid continued. ‘‘We are opposed to use of groundwater to in Charles County for industrial use ...”

Schmid noted that her neighborhood is ‘‘dependent completely upon wells” and that increased draw in Waldorf would ‘‘threaten the very existence of our homes.”

‘‘Our water system is already taxed,” said Deloris Cacciaglla, a 30-year resident of Waldorf. Cacciaglla referred to a Maryland Geological Survey report that stated the region would run out of water capacity by 2030, adding, ‘‘I don’t think we’re going to make it to 2030. ... I know I sound a little bit dramatic, but I just feel that things are getting out of control.”

George Wilmot of Bryans Road, representing Citizens for a Better Charles County, said, ‘‘There is very good evidence that groundwater in Charles County is drying out. ... We are using it faster than it can be replaced. ... We can’t allow industrial use when we’re already experiencing some places without groundwater.”

According to testimony filed with the Maryland Public Service Commission by Segner and other CPV officials and contractors, the proposed plant, planned for Billingsley Road, would use between 130,000 and 230,000 gallons of potable groundwater each day from the Waldorf water system, even if the company opts to use recycled effluent to cool the plant.

‘‘There is a base need of potable water,” Segner said, replying to citizen testimony and clarifying that the water would not be used for cooling. However, Segner argued that the plant would not require the county to add new capacity to the water system. ‘‘It is our belief that no additional wells are needed. ... We are not triggering new wells.”

The groundwater being requested by CPV, according to its testimony to the PSC, would be used for replacing water lost in the steam turbine and for ‘‘washing the combustion turbines, equipment sealing and flushing, and plant washdown.”

Waldorf’s water system pumps an average of 4.9 million gallons per day and has a capacity of 8.9 mgd. However, during last year’s hot, dry September, water usage spiked to 6.6 mgd over an extended period, prompting water officials to ask citizens to ease their usage.

In a written statement to the Independent Tuesday, the county’s acting utilities director, Bill Shreve, clarified statements attributed to him in an Independent article that appeared last week concerning the power plant’s water consumption.

‘‘My response ... was that I do not believe it is acceptable to use potable water for uses that could be satisfied with recycled water and that we should encourage the use of as much recycled water as possible,” Shreve wrote. ‘‘I did state that the use of recycled water should be considered as an alternative to potable water for any large commercial or outdoor uses in the county to minimize the impact on future potable supplies.”

Giving a statement at the close of Tuesday’s hearing, commissioners’ President F. Wayne Cooper (D) estimated that county homes use approximately 200 to 250 gallons of water a day. Assuming each house uses 250 gallons each day, CPV’s water draw would be the equivalent of 520 homes at minimum and 920 homes at maximum. However, Cooper estimated that the plant’s water usage would be equivalent to 100 to 200 homes.

Cooper proposed that CPV consider using recycled effluent for plant operations, not just cooling.

‘‘I’d like for you to explore that,” Cooper said, adding that the county’s groundwater probably has more mineral content than the treated effluent from its water treatment plan.

Those wishing to submit written comments to the PSC may do so until June 12 at Public Service Commission of Maryland, Attention: Commissioner Bright, 6 St. Paul St., 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202.