UPDATED with testimony presented at the Jan. 24, 2013 WSSC hearing; scroll down. 


FROM Jim Neustadt, Director of Communications & Community Relations, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

Dear Watershed Stakeholder: Thanks to all who participated in the community meeting and who sent written comments about the proposed new watershed regulations. At the meeting we announced we would post the final version on or before February 6th. We have now changed that to February 13th.

ORIGINAL POST, Jan. 19, 2013:

Horsemen won the first battle with WSSC, when the report commissioned BY the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission declared that horses were not the reason for erosion and run-off in the WSSC reservoirs of Triadelphia, Rocky Gorge and Little Seneca (click here to see December story on equiery.com).  WSSC had used the premise that horses were the source of erosion and run-of in order impose draconian restrictions on horses in the watershed, and so when the Commission’s own study proved otherwise, WSSC was forced to reconsider its position when it prepared its regulations for 2013. 

Well, the new proposed regulations do restore the access of trail riders to the watershed, but are so burdened with fees and unrealistic requirements that it begs the question: are WSSC’s new fees and rules for trail riders punitive? Rob McNab reports for The Equiery:

WSSC proposed watershed regulations for 2013

submitted by Ron MacNab

First, the good:

  • Horseback riding is permitted on designated trails with purchase of a permit.
  • Hiking, Bird watching, and leashed pets are permitted with purchase of a permit.
  • Some trails in Triadelphia may be opened in the future.

Now, the Bad:

  • All animal waste must be collected before leaving and deposited in trash receptacles or taken away for disposal.
  • Horseback riding not permitted December 1 through March 15.
  • Seniors, over the age of 65, no longer receive a free pass.
  • Commercial stables with entrance onto the watershed must enter into a legal agreement with WSSC that requires:
    • purchase an entrance permit for the stable, cost $250;
    • hold the stable responsible for boarders to purchase permits before entering the watershed. cost $70 per person.
  • Adjacent landowners with horses must enter into a legal agreement with WSSC that requires:
    • purchase an Adjacent Landowners Entrance Permit, cost $80;
    • purchase a Use Permit, cost $70 per person.
  • Seasonal Watershed Use Permit fee increased from $60 to $70.

Please plan to attend and speak at the Community Meeting January 24, 2013 in the Commission Auditorium, 14501 Sweitzer Lane, Laurel, Md., 20707 from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. You may sign up to speak at the meeting or in advance by emailing your name and contact information to communications@wsscwater.com or call 301-206-8100.

Those wishing to provide written comments on the regulations can email them to communications@wsscwater.com or send them to:

Watershed Comments
Office of Communications & Community Relations
14501 Sweitzer Lane, Laurel, MD 20707

From Barbara Sollner-Webb: Please help preserve trail riding

We need everyones help to prevent the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission from implementing completely unwarranted regulations that would be a dangerous precedent to impair riding at any venue.

Please come to testify at WSSC’s hearing (this Thursday, 1/24/13, 7 pm; call 301-206-8100 to pre-register) or send in your comments.  And please also send all comments to Councilwoman Mary Lehman (CouncilDistrict1@co.pg.md.us), since the County Councils can prevent these egregious rues from being enacted, by enforcing their wording in WSSC’s budget legislation, that “Public access that is more restrictive than policies in effect prior to the 2011 changes should be supported by the science and industry best practices.”

Brief background:  There has been a long acrimonious fight, with WSSC initially closing their minimally eroded equestrian trail, claiming it was “the biggest source” of sediment in their reservoirs and made their water hard to treat, and this generated so large a public outcry showing the trail was not a problem, that WSSC contracted a quarter million dollar outside study to get evidence.  This study, by EA Engineering, supported basically all the equestrians’ claims — that the old equestrian trial was “excellent” with “little or no evidence of erosion observed along any portion of the trail”, that the Access Road to which WSSC moved riding has “extremely steep slopes with substantial gullies and washed out areas”, is “not suitable for… horseback riding”, “potentially dangerous for horses” and “the dominant source of sediments and associated run-off contaminants originating within WSSC buffer property”, and that the poor assess points to which WSSC limited equestrian entrance are largely “unsuitable” and/or “unsafe” and should be improved if they are to be used.  WSSC has now issued new draft regulations, evidently written to eliminate riding.

Do these rules (most of which do not follow the suggestions of their expensive study) seem punitive, trying to abolish riding, which has not been problematic?   Your comments would be a great help! [Go to www.wsscwater.com for details.]

1-  Packing out all horse droppings from even the distant portions of their forest trail (not just the parking lot, where it should be done) — this killer rule is not suggested in EA’s report, not warranted since the veterinary literature shows droppings of riding-age horses basically do not contain problematic pathogens, and as far as we know not required at any other forested riding venue in the entire country.  [Packing in a shovel and bag, then dismounting and remounting on the trail with the gathered poop, and packing it out, or using a horse-diaper, would be impossible and/or unsafe for many riders and horses.]  
2-  They made illegal:  “cutting, trimming, clearing of trees, branches”, so ANY trail maintenance.   Do they want the trails to become unsafe, with fallen trees blocking safe progress and branches endangering ones eyes?  
3-  Troubling entering regulations:  WSSC evidently does not plan to imporve the “unsuitable” and/or “unsafe” access points (which also are inconvenient and require most get a trailer and waste CO2 driving to enter) but will require payment of $80 or $250 per year to re-activate each good entrance.
4-  Additional rates are increasing:  The use permit will be $70/year (before 2010, it was $30), possibly the most expensive trail riding venue in in the state, plus the previous free entry for seniors is being eliminated (when most organizations encourage seniors to exercise).
5-  They are not re-opening winter riding, claiming they need to “close the watershed during the wetter winter months when there is less foliage and ground cover to reduce erosion and runoff”.  However, that argument is false because while they claim winter is “wetter”, their own data show it has the least rainfall, and  their forest actually has the most ground cover in winter — a thick blanket of fallen leaves (while in summer there is minimal ground cover, because of the dense shade from the thick tree canopy).  Plus, through the previous many decades of riding also in the winter, with the equestrian trail remains “excellent“.
6-  Rather than riders decided when it is safe to ride (as they have done for decades, with the trail remaining minimally eroded), WSSC says they will now determine that each day and post it online (with rules certainly not sensitive to different portions of the trail getting different amounts of rain and drying out differently).
7-  WSSC’s new regulations give no indication that they will re-open riding on the Tridelphia Reservoir Access Road, which the EA report suggested they should. 
8-  Even though EA’s report strongly suggested that WSSC institute a volunteer force (like the volunteer mounted patrols that many area parks and police departments successfully use and equestrians have offered for years) there is no evidence WSSC is considering this.

Over 60 testified against new WSSC proposed regs!

By Barbara Soliner-Webb

WSSC community meeting, January 24, 2013 in the WSSC Auditorium

Over 60 caring citizens (equestrians, boaters and others) attended Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s hearing on Jan. 24, 2013, addressing the watershed use regulations they released a few days earlier, and nearly 30 presented excellent oral testimony.  Numerous others (some present, others who could not attend because the hearing was announced on such short notice) submitted written testimony.  That night, WSSC closed their comment period, eight days after releasing the new regulations.

Speakers stressed their appreciation for being able to enjoy WSSC’s spectacular watershed property and their desire to work with WSSC to enhance the reservoirs’ environmental health.

However, there was great distress that WSSC’s new watershed regulations seemed designed to deter equestrian use, possibly because they were written by the same WSSC employees who earlier misrepresented the equestrian trail as “the biggest source” of sediment, when their contractor rated it as “excellent” with “little or no evidence of erosion.”

The greatest concern was with WSSC’s new regulation forcing riders to collect and pack out all horse droppings from even distant portions of the trail, since this was not suggested by WSSC’s outside contractor, appears not required at any other trail riding venue in the entire world (including at thousands of other reservoirs), and seems to serve no valid function — other than deterring equestrian use. Former TROT President Ron MacNab and others presented scientific evidence that droppings of riding age horses do not contain medically worrisome pathogens and stressed how dangerous this unprecedented requirement would be for most riders, indeed impossible for many.

Numerous speakers noted that WSSC’s new regulation forbidding the moving fallen tree limbs or breaking twigs seems designed to generate an obstructed, dangerous trail, likely to cause rider injury. Octagarian rider Terry Ledely, for whose dedication WSSC earlier dedicated their “Terry Ledely Equestrian Trail”, noted that for 3 1/2 decades she has been a “multiple, serial transgressor” of these new rules, and their enactment would ban her from used the trail.

These concerns were underscored in petitions signed by nearly 300 caring citizens and in excellent written testimony from incoming Maryland Horse Council President Jane Seigler.

Multiple equestrians, boaters, and others also testified against WSSC:

  • eliminating their long-standing free entrance for seniors (seemingly contrary to forward-thinking agencies encouraging exercise by this group and notable since WSSC added free entrance for WSSC employees),
  • raising the entrance fee for all, to become the most costly in the entire state, and
  • demanding a large payment to use previous fine entrances rather than inconvenient entrances their contractor deemed largely “unsuitable” or “unsafe”, which WSSC now demands be used.

Several suggested it would be more sensible for WSSC to again partner with their dedicated recreational users, not seem adversarial to them.  And several, including a member of a WSSC volunteer organization, asked why WSSC spent so much ratepayer money on an outside study but then evidently ignored most of their positive advice and instead invented new rules to deter equestrian use.

Numerous speakers also criticized not returning to the previous, longer times for public access, since WSSC’s reasons seemed contrary to reality, and several were displeased that WSSC’s “stakeholder” meetings were invitation-only, not publicly announced, and lacked the input of many.  One fisherman noted that WSSC was closing half their long-term boat launce sites, for no stated reason.

Fortunately, this hearing was also attended by one of the WSSC Commissioners who had earlier announced she was an equestrian and by a representative of the County Council who earlier wrote into WSSC’s funding legislation that “Public access that is more restrictive than policies in effect prior to the 2011 changes should be supported by the science and industry best practices”.   Hopefully they will help assure the new, more restrictive regulations that lack support by science and industry best practices do not go into effect — both to preserve riding at this delightful venue and to prevent a dangerous precedent that could be used to deter riding at any other venue.  It is wonderful that equestrians are so caring, logical, and eloquent.

Below is some of the submitted testimony.

Priscilla Huffman:

Of particular concern is the recommendation that all horse droppings be packed out of the park. This is not a requirement of any other local watershed area, including Liberty, Prettyboy or Loch Raven reservoirs, or any other forest-area public park in the country, as far as I can tell from my personal research.  Primarily for safety reasons, even “leave no trace” guidelines state that dismounting, holding a horse by the reins, and trying to scrape waste from a trail while controlling the horse from the ground all offer potential problems for the rider, and therefore packing out horse manure is not required. There is no reasonable way for waste to be carried by a rider on a horse. Additionally, once off the horse, many riders would not be able to re-mount without a mounting block, which would not be available on the trail.  This requirement was not a recommendation of the engineering consulting group.

Before 2010, the annual user permit was $30. The next year, the fee doubled to $60. The person who sold me my permit seemed as surprised as I was by the amount of the increase and was not able to supply any explanation.  The new guidelines are now increasing this fee again, to $70, and have eliminated the exclusion for seniors 65 and over. Shouldn’t the senior group be encouraged to stay healthy through walking and exercise? With their constrained resources, shouldn’t this group be supported with an exclusion of the high user fee?

Winter riding should be permitted on the trails. Winter is the time of the least rainfall, and the most ground cover in the form of fallen leaves. These trails have been ridden on in the winter for many years, and were deemed by the consultants to be in “excellent” condition.

The consultants’ recommended that a volunteer group be formed, as many other parks and police forces have done. The trail riders have offered to staff such a volunteer group, but there is no mention of this in the new guidelines.

TROT members include riders sworn in and functioning as volunteer rangers for local park police.  Many trail riders are responsible local land owners who provide knowledgeable eyes monitoring the welfare of our public facilities. We should be encouraging, not discouraging, this group of users.


Dana Grabiner:

WSSC has been unable to manufacture a scientific basis for its actions. Even its own consultant, EA Associates, concluded in a $225,000 commissioned report that the horse trails are sound, horses are not causing erosion, and the rutted emergency-access roads WSSC wants riders to use actually are hazardous. The report didn’t even mention horse manure as a stressor on the watershed. Yet WSSC is ignoring its consultant’s conclusions


Debby Poole, Burtonsville:

My personal views on the shared uses of the WSSC watershed have been previously given so I will try to remain brief. I only want to say that since 1969 I have been involved with WSSC in many positive ways:

For 40+ years WSSC has been a continual part of my life. I have non-equestrian friends that work there, I have friends that own horses and board with me who work there, I had the WSSC Patrol officers using my own horses until 2005, and I personally have spent a tremendous amount of time clearing, cleaning, and keeping a protective eye on the Watershed.

During these years I have always respected and trusted the WSSC commission employees. I raised my children, the 4-H children I’ve been involved with, as well as my boarders, to all respect them too. They care for the property and have permits and abide by the regulations. I have been aware that there have been inside political issues with WSSC I’ve seen this firsthand with the patrol officers over some issues. But I felt that most often they were dealt and handled with integrity.

I do not feel this way about how this entire watershed use and water protection issue has been handled. I believe if WSSC had originally reached out to the various rate payers and watershed users all the controversy, negativity and newspaper articles could have been avoided. It would have been very easy for WSSC to Google horse farms and clubs, bird watching clubs, fishing clubs… and gotten groups together to discuss and brainstorm ideas.

If any of you have seen my e-mails or letters, you would see that even after the initial controversy I have continued to believe that WSSC would reach out and work with all the groups. After the EA report was given I sent out another very positive email reflecting these feelings. Many wrote and told me I had my blinders on but I refused to believe that in the end WSSC would not come through and help us to not only be good stewards of the watershed, but also set an example for other watersheds to find a way to work with people while maintaining a safe and welcome usable environment for future Generations to enjoy. I hope WSSC will not prove me wrong when the new regulation handbooks are handed out.