Charles County may reach its limit on available groundwater within the next decade, according to district commissioners concerned their current plan is not a solution and will leave residents struggling to cover additional taxes for surface water.
“The plan that we have in place is more like a Band-Aid,” said District 3 Commissioner Amanda Stuart. “It’s not going to fix or address the issue for generations to come.”
David Heidelbach, a resident from Charlotte Hall, began the conversation during the public forum portion of the Board of Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday morning. He cited an article by the New York Times that revealed national and local concerns about depleting groundwater resources.
“I don’t believe that most residents understand that their wells are going to run dry sometime in the next decade,” said Heidelbach.
Heidelbach expressed concerns for the county’s lack of transparency with residents but also worries that the commissioner’s groundwater plan is insufficient. A few of the commissioners agreed.
Nevertheless, Commissioner President Reuben Collins loudly shot down the accusations. In collaboration with Jason Groth, the county’s deputy director of planning and growth management, he said the county had a plan in place with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
“We are moving to surface water for our existing water resources, not just future,” said Groth. “And we have the agreement executed with WSSC.”
District 1 Commissioner Gilbert Bowling said buying water from WSSC is very expensive and may burden residents.
“Those are discussions that are really important to have as we grow as a county because that’s gonna add taxes onto the residents,” said Bowling. “It has to be paid for by somebody.”
Almost 2 million residents in Maryland rely on groundwater, and it is dwindling on a state level as well as in the county. Once Charles County reaches its limit on the amount of groundwater they are allowed to pump out of wells, residents will have to rely on surface water resources like sanitation plants or piped-in water from out of state.
Bowling said recent cost estimates for new water sanitation plants that have been discussed cost in the ballpark of $80 million. These plants would remove salt from the Potomac River.
Despite the lengthy debate, this matter was not on the meeting’s agenda and has not yet been made into a future agenda item.
Tammi Crank, a District 2 resident, was in tears following her public comment after she addressed concerns with the Bryans Road Sub-Area Plan. This plan described how the area’s infrastructure is meant to evolve over the next 10 to 20 years.
The plan explicitly wants to target population growth and add approximately 40 new homes yearly. Other goals include a multigenerational community facility, affordable senior housing, an environmental benefits district, and a Pomonkey Center for Cultural and Environmental Education.
“Bryans Road residents are now aware that there’s an agenda against our area that includes a few commissioners, county employees, contractors, and business owners hiding behind various registered LLCs that have been seeking to profit off of our area without valuing our input,” said Crank. “We’re tired.”
The County Commissioners hosted a public hearing on June 27, and then the record was held open for 30 days. They received 112 written comments, and over 81% of those comments were against the area plan as it is currently written.
“A lot of the people I’ve talked to, they like the way Bryans Road is,” said Stuart. “They don’t want to make it a Waldorf.”
Crank commended Bowling and Stuart for genuinely considering residents for these matters. District 4 Commissioner Ralph Patterson emphasized that the commissioners want to listen to the public, but there must be compromise.
“To do nothing is not acceptable and I’ve seen nothing being done,” Patterson said. “That’s my home, my mom still lives in District 2.”
A briefing was meant to be held on this topic in the afternoon portion of the meeting but was postponed until Sept. 19 due to the absence of the District 2 commissioner.
The commissioners also addressed the consequences of holding an impromptu board meeting last May that violated Maryland’s Open Meetings Act.
“When I saw that there were three commissioners, my thoughts should have recognized that was creating an open meetings violation, and for that I take absolute responsibility,” said Collins. “I am not running away from anything.”
Collins asked residents to understand that the meeting was recorded and transparent despite the violation. He said there was no deliberation to hide anything from the public, and the recording of the meeting is still currently available.