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How Safe is the Water

Environmental activists and other consumers of the area’s drinking water got a first look Tuesday night at a study of threats to that resource.

A long-banned pesticide, Dieldrin, which has turned up in some water samples at the Potomac Water Filtration plant was one contaminant of concern, along with Cryptosporidium, Giardia and fecal coliforms.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), WSSC, and consultants presented the findings of the Source Water Assessment for the Potomac Water Filtration Plant, identifying potential contaminants and assessing the vulnerability to those contaminants.

The information provided by the study could be a critical resource in protecting the river and public health, said Neal Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Audubon Naturalist Society and a Potomac resident.

“Listing contaminants and where they come from can be powerful information,” he said. “Anything that leads to sourcewater protection is a powerful tool.”

Fitzpatrick points to New York City investments in recent years in billions of dollars worth of landuse protections in the Hudson River watershed, designed to protect drinking water.

“They made an investment in landuse instead of an additional treatment plant." The Legacy Open Space program is similar kind of investment in Montgomery County, Fitzpatrick said.

THE SOURCEWATER assessment, as it is called, is federally mandated as part of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996, and must be complete by July. Similar assessments are underway around the nation.

Developing strategies to protect drinking water is the purpose of the effort, said John Grace, taking charge of the initiative for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

“We want to know how, when and why to enhance protection for the Potomac River, for the safety of drinking water,” Grace said.

Contamination with Giardia, Cryptosporidium and fecal coliforms could come from agricultural sources, overflow and malfunctions at wastewater treatment plants upstream and wildlife sources, Grace said.

Maryland Department of the Environment will hold more meetings once the report is finalized, Grace said.

“The mission of the study is to consider how to enhance the protection of the Potomac River,” reads the summary. “The ultimate goal of Maryland’s assessment program is to establish a basis to better protect sources of drinking water serving Maryland’s residents.”

The Source Water Assessment for the Potomac Water Plant will be completed by July 2002, and a draft report has been developed.

The draft executive summary is available for public review; for a copy, contact John Grace of MDE at 410-631-3714.