The long, dry summer

In Mount Airy, yet another water ban has people anxious -- for snow.

July 18, 1999|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,Sun Staff

MOUNT AIRY -- Folks in this small town can blame their summer water troubles on an unlikely suspect: Old Man Winter.

While rain has been sparse this spring and summer, it's the lack of snow in recent winters that has left the town's aquifer low -- just as a flurry of new residents has increased demand. The result: a ban on outdoor water use in three of the past four summers.

This summer, the 5,800 people in Mount Airy, on the Carroll and Frederick county line, began living under the ban at 9 a.m., June 11, a morning when even one of its Methodist ministers awoke early to water his lawn while it was still legal. A little more than a month into the ban -- no watering the grass, no washing the car -- here's what people are doing as they do without:

* Tired of lugging buckets down the stairs after his wife's bath, retired electrician Bill Henley found another way to save a half century's worth of flowers planted in the cottage garden behind his Park Avenue home. He saw the mayor of a neighboring town draining his washing machine water into his yard. Now Henley does laundry twice a week, and his hostas stay happy.

* At Ridgeville Car Wash & Detail Center, the only one in town, business has dropped, despite the fact that manager Tom Hilton has permission to stay open (the carwash recycles its runoff). Problem is, Hilton says, townspeople read the words "no car washing" and assume it applies to him, too.

* Because the town doesn't have "water police," Mayor Jerry Johnson mustered an informal patrol of five state troopers, seven town maintenance men and himself. So far, only two people have been cited, both on the first day of restrictions: One person washed a car, the other watered a lawn; both received $25 fines after neighbors turned them in. No other water waster has been caught, but then everybody in town knows Johnson's tan-colored Chevrolet when they see it coming.

* Mayor Johnson lives by example. He conserves the condensation from his window air conditioner, he showers with two buckets in his tub, he waters the pansies outside town hall with buckets filled at the sewage treatment plant.

* The town's largest Methodist congregation, Calvary United Methodist Church, doubled its size recently with a $2 million addition, but picked an unfortunate time to start the landscaping -- the week before the ban. Though shrubs have been lost, minister Dennis Yocum has found salvation for his backyard vegetable garden -- a kind neighbor hauls 50-gallon barrels of water from Montgomery County construction sites where he works.

* The cars for sale at Jones Motor Sales wear a coat of dust because the dealership can clean cars only "for delivery" or when salesmen spy bird droppings (they can ruin the paint). Manager Mike Harshman says he's ready to commission a rain dance. "If I thought it'd work, I'd pay the guy myself."

Pub Date: 07/18/99

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