More Rainfall Is Needed To Avert Another Drought

March 01, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

Last week's rain might have seemed unending to those who drove and waded through it, but we'll need more of it to avoid a drought, weather observers say.

"It really didn't rain that much -- it was only about an inch," said Larry Myers, a local weather observer who measures rainfall from his home north of Westminster. "If you count last year and this year, we're probably 10 inches below normal, and that's a lot.

Municipal officials say they are worried about having to impose bans again this summer on outdoor usage, while home construction may be slowed if percolation tests cannot be performed soon.

Rainfall for 1991 was 32.57 inches, about 8 inches below normal, Myers said. For January, the rainfall was 1.31 inches, compared to 3.47 in January 1991.

February has brought 1.95 inches, compared to 1.22 last year. But the average for February is about 3 inches.

"So we're starting out dry this year, with 2 1/2 inches below normal," Myers said. "Right now is when we should be getting the rainfall, before we get into the high and dry months."

But the county needs more than rain, said Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown and Hampstead Manager John A.Riley.

"We just need brains, is what we need," Riley said, urgingconservation.

Brown warned Carroll's other municipal leaders gathered at a meeting last month about the likelihood of a drought this year.

"We're only two months away from our spring (lawn-)watering season," Brown said. "What I would like is the county and the towns tofocus on education.

"We every day use more water than we need to."

Brown said in addition to voluntary and mandatory bans on outdoor usage, he would like the Westminster City Council to explore other measures, such as lowering the pressure to certain areas of the city at certain times.

He also said he wants to consider a rate structure similar to the new one in Hampstead, which, because of its geology, has never had an abundance of water.

Last summer, Hampstead raised and restructured water rates so that the more a family used, the more it paid per gallon. Riley said it has helped keep usage down somewhat.

"I'm always nervous about water," Riley said. "It's just an unknown. Normally, we have enough water. But we started out with a shortfall last year of about 7 or 8 inches."

Any old kind of rain isn't enough. It has to be the light kind that has time to soak into the ground, said Riley and Environmental Health Assistant Director Charles Zeleski.

Most of the water from a hard downpour runs off into streams, they said.

Surveyors and others waiting to get percolation tests for wet-weather soil have been delayed a month so far, waiting for the county Bureau of Environmental Health to decide that enoughrain has fallen to yield accurate results.

For the percolation tests, the soil has to have absorbed enough rain to show how it will handle a septic system in wet weather.

The test has to be done between February and April each year for soils that are very wet, such as those on low lands near streams, Zeleski said.

If the right weather conditions don't occur by April 30, developers would have to wait until next year, Zeleski said, but that isn't likely to happen.

Many already have been waiting long enough, said Richard L. Hull, seniorvice president of KCI Technologies, a surveying firm in Westminster which has clients waiting for the percolation tests.

"An additional delay is additional carrying costs for the developer or owner," he said.

The plans can't go any further in the county planning process for approval, and the lots can't be sold.

"Everything sort of goes on hold and nobody can work," Hull said.

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