- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The Ehrlich administration is considering a policy to lease or sell water on and under state lands in response to towns needing water for new houses.

Critics say such a policy could create intense development on the borders of state parks.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials told the Baltimore Sun that they have received about a dozen requests from towns.

The towns want either to tap into deep groundwater aquifers under state property or use surface water flowing through state parks to accommodate new houses and businesses.

The state currently has no procedures for considering such requests.

“We want to have a policy that says what the conditions are to say yes or no, so that we can defend the position either way,” Kristin Saunders Evans, an assistant DNR secretary, told the newspaper. “We’re trying to be responsible and proactive, and avoid a problem down the road.”

The department is in the early stages of preparing the policy.

Officials have suggested in a draft that they would be looking at issues such as whether towns’ proposals to tap state water benefited state government and whether the use was “reasonable” before granting permission.

Boonsboro in Washington County is seeking the rights to groundwater in South Mountain State Park. Middletown in Frederick County has asked about water in Gambrill State Park.

For at least five years, the state has been providing water to a Western Maryland ski resort and to a complex of buildings in Carroll County.

But critics say establishing a policy would lead inevitably to more such deals and would encourage development around environmentally sensitive state lands.

Such a policy “will lead to a development-driven atmosphere,” said Victoria Woodward, executive director of Safe Waterways in Maryland, a conservation group. “Communities will begin to change their comprehensive plans and push development toward state parks in the hope that they’ll get to use those waters.”

State Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a leading environmental advocate in the General Assembly, said he worries that the proposed policy would erode state protection of public lands.

“It shows you a mind-set that is antithetical to conservation and to good stewardship,” said Mr. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat.

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