Maryland Stands Down in 400-Year-Old Fight With West Virginia Over Potomac Water

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By Sharon Terlep

Maryland has agreed to give neighboring West Virginia unchecked access to water from the Potomac River, ending a flare up that briefly entangled consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey had threatened to sue Maryland if the state refused to give it full rights to draw from the river, a portion of which defines the border between the two states. Mr. Morrisey argued that his state needs the water to support a $500 million manufacturing plant that P&G plans to build on its side of the Potomac.

They said Maryland had issued permits only to entities that requested it do so, and that West Virginia lacks a program to regulate withdrawals from the river. West Virginia "has traditionally not taken an active role in the management of this critical public resource," they wrote.

The Maryland Department of the Environment "has made it clear to West Virginia users that they are not required to come to Maryland for permits," a spokeswoman for Mr. Frosh said in a statement. She declined to say whether Maryland would take action should West Virginia fail to implement protections, calling the matter "speculative."

Mr. Morrisey, in a statement Wednesday, said he no longer plans to sue Maryland and praised the state's " unequivocal acknowledgment of West Virginia's right to the river."

"It has always been our goal to ensure that there is an adequate amount of water available for our citizens, while at the same time protecting and conserving this valuable resource for future generations," he said.

Mr. Morrisey had argued that Maryland's control over the Potomac River water is limited by an 1785 compact negotiated by George Washington, four years before he became the first U.S. president, as well as a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Disputes over the river date back to the 1600s when Virginia and Maryland were both British colonies and West Virginia wasn't yet its own territory.

P&G declined to comment.

P&G said the water dispute between the states didn't impact its new factory because it had received reassurances from officials in the county where its plant will be located that there was adequate water for the plant that will make Pantene shampoos and Old Spice body wash.

Write to Sharon Terlep at

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