Itís the water that keeps our communities healthy.
Itís the water that keeps our schools and businesses going.
Itís the water that makes our daily lives possible.
Thatís why protecting source water is one of the primary missions at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. We provide safe, clean drinking water to 1.8 million residents in Prince Georgeís and Montgomery counties, and we take that responsibility very seriously.
One way we protect the water is through the approximately 5,600-acre WSSC watershed —the buffer that reduces the sediment and pollutants reaching the Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs. They hold the source water for our Patuxent Water Filtration Plant, which provides 30 percent of our customers with drinking water. Thatís more than 600,000 people.
For many years, we have issued permits to allow limited recreational use of the watershed. We certainly understand the attraction. Itís a quiet, beautiful area away from urban stress and traffic. And we use it ourselves for WSSCís annual campfire and other activities to promote water and environmental awareness.
But, first and foremost — itís about protecting the water.
Last year, WSSC issued new regulations with new restrictions impacting all users, including closing the watershed a month earlier in the fall and opening it a month later in the spring. We also limited horseback riding to the access roads. Our goal was and is to protect the watershed.
A very small but vocal group felt we should have consulted them first. Perhaps in hindsight we should have. But I do want to make one thing very clear. At no time did we consider closing the watershed entirely for all recreational uses. But we cannot allow the interests of a tiny group override the well-being of the WSSC customers who drink the water from those reservoirs. There must be a balance.
A review of our watershed policies and regulations was overdue. So we hired a consultant to gather data, gather input from watershed users and assess the condition of the watershed. We also asked them to look at our operations and management practices and provide WSSC with findings and recommendations on how to make improvements.
The study is now complete. We will present the report to the commission at its meeting Monday. We will then seek additional input from stakeholders before we propose new regulations. We also will draft a comprehensive strategy to manage the watershed that makes fiscal and environmental sense.
Itís time to work together in a cooperative spirit to craft a policy that first protects the water, and second, provides appropriate access to the rare jewel we call the watershed.
Jerry N. Johnson is general manager/CEO of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves Montgomery and Prince Georgeís counties.