Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New world water...

One thing that I never really thought about until today is the fact that without water and sewer infrastructure in the rural west, it’s kind of hard to put out fires.

Rather than hooking up to the nearest hydrant – many of which in this county bear the surname of yours truly, something I think is worth noting – firefighters tap into whatever source of water they can find, often pools and ponds, or rely on tanker trucks to bring the water to them.

As you can imagine, this is not an ideal way to douse the flames. Indeed, in the last few years, a couple million dollar homes have suffered millions of dollars of damage because of fires, and while I don’t know any comparable statistics for the eastern part of the county, the situation seems worse out west.

Well, at least one western HoCo resident is not going to watch his dream (home) go up in smoke.

The 18,000-square-foot home has 32 fire detectors, wall-mounted fire hoses hooked into the plumbing, a phone in each of the 11 bedrooms, a circuit breaker box plus two flashlights on each of the four floors, 12 sets of emergency lights and a 100,000-watt, diesel-fueled generator.

And by December, owner Lee Hewitt Jr. is hoping to install the biggest piece of his home protection system: a 20,000-gallon underground water tank in front of his Cooksville mansion for use in the event of fire.

…"You assume the fire department's going to have enough water, but the big house burned down, and you learn," said Hewitt, who lives in his house with his wife and two young children.

It's a lesson familiar to longtime residents of rural areas - and, increasingly, their new neighbors who are moving to the edge of the suburbs where ready access to water is not a given.
His is not the first water tank in Howard County. The Glenwood Library and Senior Center also have tanks, while a nearby neighborhood installed a dry hydrant that connects to a local pond. But, given the cost, he probably won’t have many followers.
Because of discounts from contractors, Hewitt expects the tank to cost him between $10,000 and $12,000. But the market value, he says, is about $25,000 - $20,000 for the tank, $3,000 for excavation and installation, $1,000 to hook it to an above-ground hose and $1,000 for water to fill it.
It will be larger than the 5,000- to-6,000-gallon tanks that 18-wheeler trucks usually carry, and once it is installed about 100 feet in front of the house and 10 to 20 feet underground, the only thing visible in the Hewitt's front yard will be a dry hydrant - the non-pressurized spigot firefighters can use to draw water.

Generally, the cost of installing a tank for a home would be prohibitive.

"There is no way it is economically feasible," said Gene Gillispie, principal of A.L. Howes Agency, an insurance company based in Sykesville. "Do you know how big of a hole you need to have for that type of tank to be there? Then you have maintenance, and leaking issues. Good grief."
So, the current situation, with firefighters scrambling for water whenever they’re called into action, will likely continue. But should it?
"I haven't heard anything about restricting development because of water capacity or fires or the ability to put out fires in those areas," said Cindy Hamilton, chief of the planning department's Division of Land Development.
Should we be talking about this? By allowing this pattern of growth to continue, are we at least partially contributing to a public safety problem?

For me, it’s yet another reason to oppose development in the rural west or even beyond the water and sewer service area.


hocoblog said...

I don't think we should expand the Metropolitan Water area either. However, for public safety reasons we need to find a source of water for the West that can be tapped by firemen. Aquaducts would be something to look at, however, I would want to go slow so as not to create a seperate water district for the West.

FreeMarket said...

It seems to me that these tanks are a real benefit to have in your backyard. It might be a good idea to require developers to install these tanks with any development project of significant size in the western end. I don’t think it would fair to say that developers are causing public safety problems with rampant development, but it appears that they are in a good position to reduce such problems, regardless.

Little-Duke said...

are there any statistics on how many people were buying second homes or other investment property during the housing boom? as an "own-not" that always struck me as something that helped contribute to high costs, and its surprising that you get a deduction on a second home.

Hayduke said...

Here's something from last March about the second home market. It's also interesting that basically anything with a place to cook meals, a bathroom and room for sleeping (including boats) qualifies as a second home, which qualify for the mortgage interest deduction. This makes them good tax shelters for those whose primary mortgage is nothing or close to it.