HomeTop StoriesFrostburg wins the state prize 'Water system of the year 2024'

Frostburg wins the state prize ‘Water system of the year 2024’

May 10—FROSTBURG — The ability to overcome unique obstacles, including one of Maryland’s tallest mountains, was one of the reasons a local city received a statewide award this week.

While significant scientific and engineering work also played a role, the ability to help a neighbor was highlighted when Frostburg received the 2024 Water System of the Year award from the Maryland Rural Water Association.

The city was nominated because it has been providing high-quality drinking water to the Georges Creek Valley for more than a year through the Lonaconing water system, which includes customers in Midland, Lonaconing, Barton and unincorporated areas in between.

MRWA Executive Director Sue Houghton announced the city’s award Wednesday during the organization’s annual conference in Ocean City.

“In January 2023, a water system nearly 10 miles away experienced a water emergency that ultimately resulted in (Frostburg) delivering water to several affected communities,” she said, according to an MRWA statement. “This has resulted in a 22% increase in water production for the city. To date, the city has provided over 94 million liters of safe and reliable drinking water to these communities.”

Frostburg owns its water treatment plant, which is operated by Maryland Environmental Service.

The city’s water comes from springs, wells and a reservoir.

“Before the water can reach the treatment plant, it must be pumped up and over one of the tallest mountains in Maryland,” Houghton said. “Thanks to the topography of the area, this city owns and operates an in-line hydroelectric turbine that generates 17% of the city’s total electricity consumption.”

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Frostburg’s distribution system, maintained by five city employees, consists of more than 2,500 accounts and water flows through more than 36 miles of pipe, she said.

The system also supplies water to eight separate communities, made up of another 2,400 utilities, Houghton said.

“The water department staff and MES operators have handled the increased workload both efficiently and professionally,” she said.

“The efforts of the city’s elected officials and city government to address this emergency should also be commended,” Houghton said. “The quick actions of city officials and dedicated water professionals provided support to a community in need, while also continuing to deliver water to our community without disruption.”

‘Track record of performance’

Frostburg Mayor Bob Flanigan said the city was excited to take home the Water System of the Year award.

“This is a testament to our employees and the Maryland Environmental Service for their hard work and dedication to our citizens and the surrounding communities our system serves,” he said in a city statement.

Frostburg Water, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Nina Forsythe said the department was “truly pleased with this recognition of the city’s willingness to assist our neighbors during their water emergency, without compromising our ability to meet the needs of our existing customers endanger.”

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The award “speaks volumes about the expertise of our water department, Public Works Director Hayden Lindsey and MES Regional Supervisor Mark Kaiser and his team, as well as the professionalism of City Manager Elizabeth Stahlman and city staff,” Forsythe said via the statement.

“We are committed to providing clean, abundant and affordable water to all our customers and are proud of our track record of performance,” she said.

Team ‘Past and present’

Stahlman, elected this week as the new president of MRWA, said Frostburg sells water to Allegany County.

The water flows about 2.5 miles to an emergency valve that connects the county’s water main to Lonaconing’s water system, she said.

Lonaconing’s consumption is 200,000 to 250,000 gallons per day, which roughly reflects a 20-25% increase in average daily production at the Frostburg Water Treatment Plant, Stahlman said.

The city is operating within permitted and design capacity, “but the sudden and sustained increase in water production has stressed certain components of the water treatment plant, including the sediment bays and chemical storage capacity,” she said.

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“The city has already made improvements to chemical storage, but has not made any significant upgrades to date because Lonaconing has indicated they will return to their own water sources,” Stahlman said. “It is not wise or necessary to make the upgrades if the water supply to Lonaconing is temporary.”

MRWA also presented Frostburg with the 2023 Area-Wide Optimization Program Gold Award for its work at the water treatment plant.

The city was one of four rural jurisdictions in Maryland to receive the gold award, which was presented by Dee Settar, deputy manager of the Maryland Department of the Environment’s water supply program, Stahlman said.

“It is very humbling that Frostburg is recognized statewide for the city’s system and our ability and willingness to provide water to Georges Creek when called upon,” Stahlman said.

“Many former city and county officials had the foresight to create the emergency connection to our south and our current team has stepped up and done what was necessary over the past 15 months,” she said. “This award is for the city team of the past and present.”

Teresa McMinn is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or tmcminn@times-news.com.

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