Residents prepare to hang up hoses

Drought: With water restrictions imminent, many Marylanders spent the weekend getting in one last car washing or lawn soaking.

August 02, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

For Maryland residents, these could be the final days of watering at will.

With the state in the throes of its worst drought in 70 years and the governor likely to announce mandatory water restrictions this week, people spent the weekend washing their cars and giving their yards what could be the Last Big Soak.

Teaka and Dale Brown of Brooklyn Park have contingencies that combine the offerings of Mother Nature with the best elements of survivalist training.

Plan A: As many as 30 five-gallon buckets will line their walkway to catch rainwater.

Plan B: A long-distance bucket brigade from their West Virginia cabin.

"I told him if we need water, you're taking a trip," Teaka Brown said.

The water will get judiciously dribbled on petunias and poured in the backyard pond, which is low, showing 6 to 8 inches of black plastic liner. Some of the water might go toward scrubbing the boat.

Just a drip or two will go for the lawn because the flowers are gorgeous, and the pond sustains wildlife and holds lilies that cost $40 apiece.

But the grass is expendable.

"That's what they say, it will come back -- after I cry," said Teaka Brown.

Like many couples, the Browns are looking ahead to the prospect of August restrictions.

Also like many, they've cut their water use.

The governor's task force meets today to draft recommendations for water restrictions that it expects to forward to the governor tomorrow. Under consideration are a requirement of once-a-week lawn watering, a ban on car washing at home and a stipulation that restaurants serve water only to patrons who ask for it.

Only 2.06 inches of rain fell at Baltimore Washington International Airport in July, 1.63 inches below the average, according to the National Weather Service.

There have been only two months during the past 16 months in which precipitation was above normal.

Total precipitation during the past 12 months is more than 16 inches below normal.

At the Mighty Spray Car Wash in Severna Park, Kamal Ahmed is baffled by the apparent summertime preoccupation with water. He landscaped his home with plants that need little water, because he grew up in Pakistan, where the government shut the spigot to homes every other day to conserve water.

"The day you get water, you fill your tank up," he said. He expects Gov. Glendening's restrictions to be less drastic.

Homes in the area sport everything from the I-gave-up-a-month-ago look of crisp hay to the never-say-die look of deep greens and bright flowers. This summer, with week after week of blazing heat and rainless clouds, it's easy to tell who has been naughty and nice.

But most are in between, neither flaunting their sprinkler systems nor going prematurely Gobi. Some lawns show soaker-hose syndrome -- loops of deep green wherever the soaker hose around leafy, pricey shrubbery trickled water onto the grass.

Others show sprinkler syndrome: Whichever area, fan-shaped or rectangular, that the sprinkler showered is cushiony grass, but the rest looks like cracked brick with bits of embedded straw.

Kim Dunn of Crofton can stop worrying about appearances.

"When the house was on the market, we kept it going because it made a better presentation," she said.

Once the house sold a few weeks ago, the daily waterings went to every other day.

Now, with only a week left until moving day, watering is "a little here and there" so that the buyers don't think that they were duped or that the lawn was stolen.

The former green blanket looks like a patchwork quilt of tan and green.

Nearby, Ken Baicar religiously watered his front yard three times a week. But a one-week vacation left it looking like golden floss. Much as he'd like to give it a good soak, he figures it's too late.

Landscapers Chris and Russell Luzier encouraged their father to continue the nightly waterings of his green Crofton grounds, on which they did about $1,500 of work. If the drought kills the fruit of their labors, "that would be real sad," said Ron Luzier, their father. "We keep watering."

And if lawn watering is restricted? The lawn will come back -- if not this fall by itself, then in the spring with help, said Chris Luzier.

As she watched a team of men dry her station wagon at Wash Works on Howard Street in Baltimore, Joan Bull of the Medfield community said she is concerned about the kinds of water restrictions that might take hold. She plans to continue watering her yard, including hundreds of dollars in flowers, until the governor says she can't.

"I have a pool. You have to maintain a certain [water] level, or your filter won't work. That will be gross. The pool will turn green. Nobody wants to go in a green pool," she said.

Pub Date: 8/02/99

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