"These people here are really sneaky," says Harford County water cop Wanda Garrison as she cruises slowly through an Abingdon subdivision, looking and listening for offenders of the county's water-conservation law.
Garrison, a water-meter mechanic for the county Division of Water and Sewer, is one of many public works employees charged with stepping up enforcement of the law.
The Harford County law, on the books since May 1989, prohibits the use of any automatic lawn- or garden-sprinkling device. But it allows residents to hold a hose and water their lawns manually for as long as they wish.
Enforcement has been more important this year, officials say, as more customers are added to the system and the drought persists. While there was rainfall recently, the overall water problems in the county remain.
And, while most residents are complying with the law, enforcers say, some residents fancy themselves artful dodgers in trying to maintain the great American lawn regardless of the weather.
Some offenders have been caught tying hoses to lawn furniture and moving it around. Others tie a hose to a tree. Still others conceal hoses in kids' toys.
But the "water cops," who often visit neighborhoods at night, probably will find them.
"We think we know most of the tricks," said Edward L. Kimmel, chief of the division's maintenance and inspections unit.
"Soaker hoses," perforated hoses that emit small amounts of water and can be concealed behind shrubs, are among the hardest to spot, the enforcers say.
This summer, the water and sewer division has issued about 400 violations to first-time offenders, Kimmel said. Most people seem to get the message the first time around, he added.
Of those violators, only 14 have been cited subsequent times, which means they must pay a $50 fine.
"There are an awful lot of people who don't like us when we're writing violations," Garrison said. Some even get a bit hostile.
"We'll just be nice to them, issue a violation, then leave," she said.
In this summer's drought, which has strained water systems throughout the region, Kimmel praised most of the Harford system's 24,000 customers for complying.
"They're doing an excellent job, they really are," he said. "They may not like the idea, but they've adjusted to it."
Some people turn in their neighbors, Kimmel said, either because they don't like them or because they were cited another time and their neighbor wasn't.
As have other jurisdictions, Harford County put restrictions into place to ensure that all customers -- including firefighters -- have adequate pressure.
With the construction boom of the 1980s, Harford's water system had trouble keeping up with the demand, Kimmel said. The county has been trying to correct that with the construction of a new treatment plant in Havre de Grace, more water-storage towers and other projects.
That situation prompted the county to call on residents to take voluntary conservation measures, including shorter showers, checking plumbing for leaks and operating dishwashers or washing machines with full loads.
Jackie Ludwig, a senior sanitary engineer with the county Department of Public Works, said residents seem to be responding.
"We must maintain the efforts to keep it down," Ludwig said.