In early December, about 150 gallons of lubricating oil was spilled into the Potomac River. The source was the NRG Energy power plant in Dickerson, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This spill didn’t affect the drinking water supply, but other spills along the river have affected supplies in previous years. About 19 percent of the city of Frederick’s drinking water comes from the Potomac River through a Frederick County interconnection and as our population grows, it’s likely that more of our water will come from the Potomac.
In addition to the 19 percent from the Potomac, the City gets its water from three other sources. The Monocacy provides about 26 percent, Linganore Creek provides about 44 percent, and about 11 percent comes from Fishing Creek Reservoir.
All are shared resources except for Fishing Creek Reservoir. Essentially, water flows down the creeks and rivers, jurisdictions take it in for daily use, clean it, and then discharge it back into the river. This process happens along the 400 miles of the Potomac and on many of its tributaries.
The December spill at Dickerson, while very minor, serves as a reminder that we carefully balance the needs of our residents, industry, and our environment. In the past two years, several larger chemical spills from various industries have happened on the Potomac. In the years before these incidents, it was also common to see sewage spills, mostly in smaller tributaries where wastewater is discharged. However, many wastewater treatment plants in our area have recently been upgraded, significantly reducing the number of sewage spills into rivers and creeks. It’s important to be mindful of our water sources and how we affect them.
In addition to supply intakes, industry has popped up along the river as well and in some cases it’s been there for more than a century. Here in Frederick, Carroll Creek was home to tanneries, canneries, knitting and more. The railroad made it easy to transport those goods out and get others shipped in. Along the Potomac, Shenandoah, and smaller tributaries, water wheels powered sawmills, grain mills and pulp mills. Those eventually gave way to larger facilities, but industry remained near the water source. The river itself was also used to transport goods and people.
The water in the creeks and rivers must also support the fish, birds, and other critters that make the ecosystem functional and there must be enough of it for all of us to use. A spill could affect aquatic life for miles until the pollutant is removed or diluted downstream.
Here in the city of Frederick, we have multiple water sources, making our supply system much more reliable than others that rely on only one source like our downstream neighbors in D.C.
Each time you turn on the tap, consider how it traveled to get there. It was pulled from a creek or a river, cleaned to make it drinkable, and then run through miles of pipes to get to your home. Consider your upstream neighbors and how they affect your water.
Consider how you affect your downstream neighbors. Know how your water got from source to tap and where it will go after you’ve used it. The most important thing to remember is that we all live downstream.
This column was originally posted here.