Md. restricts water use

Governor issues rules as reservoirs dry up in drought emergency

Effective immediately

Limits apply to all, whether served by public system or wells

August 05, 1999|By Scott Shane and Greg Garland | Scott Shane and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Moving to head off Maryland's worsening water crisis, Gov. Parris N. Glendening ordered mandatory water-use restrictions yesterday for the first time in state history, banning lawn sprinklers and home car-washing and asking businesses to cut water consumption by 10 percent.

"Not since the Depression has the state been this dry, have our rivers been this low, our water table this low and our reservoirs this low," Glendening said in a news conference at the State House in Annapolis. "The state is literally drier than it's been in over 70 years."

The emergency restrictions -- violation of which is punishable by a $1,000 fine and six months in jail -- apply to all areas, whether served by a public water system or private wells.

The governor's executive order took effect immediately, but he advised police to issue warnings before taking action against violators.

The order bans all washing of paved surfaces outdoors and limits the watering of gardens and golf courses and filling of pools.

Restaurants are permitted to serve water only on request. Agricultural irrigation is exempt from the restrictions.

Maryland is the first state in the parched mid-Atlantic to impose statewide water restrictions, and the order provoked some grumbling.

"I think it's a little bit of overkill," said Scott Wolfkill, who will be forced to shut down the two Mighty Spray carwashes he owns in Glen Burnie and Severna Park because they do not recycle their water.

"We, as an industry, support the water ban, but the governor needs to be understanding as to what we need to survive."

Kitty Ingram of Columbia said she was worried about the prohibition on "topping off" home swimming pools.

"All I know is if it doesn't remain at a certain level, it will totally ruin your pump," Ingram said. "I'm going to have to get some clarification on that."

`I have to water'

But Patricia Owens, who has lavished care for 20 years on the flower gardens in front and back of her Charles Village rowhouse, said she was relieved that she will be able to save them. Watering lawns is out, but gardens can be sprinkled with watering cans, buckets or a hand-held hose.

"At least we can keep the delicate flowers alive," she said. "Some, if you don't water for two days, they're gone. I can be thrifty, but I have to water."

Glendening said more severe limits, including mandatory limits for business, could be imposed later if rain does not refill reservoirs: "We hope that this does not happen, but we will move decisively and with the full force of this office if conditions get worse."

The governor expressed sympathy for those inconvenienced by the order.

"I know this will not be easy," he said. "Some grass will die. I love working in my garden in my private home. I love my azaleas. But in the big scheme of things, the grass will come back and we can plant new azaleas. Our cars will get dirty but we can wash them later on.

"These are tough times, but this is a tough state and we'll do fine."

As crops withered and streams shrank, scientists at the U.S. Geologic Survey said this week that the drought of 1999 threatens to become the century's worst, partly because it follows three unusually dry years. Drought emergencies or warnings have been declared in seven eastern states and the District of Columbia.

Yet some water experts questioned whether statewide restrictions -- occasionally imposed in dry Western states but rare in the East -- were the best answer.

"For the governor to implement restrictions everywhere in the state is not a good idea," said John J. Boland, professor of geography and environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

"Every urban supply is a unique case -- some have plenty of water, and some may be in serious danger. Nobody knows better than the manager of each water utility what needs to be done," Boland said.

Glendening acknowledged that some areas are in better shape than others. But he said it would be neither wise nor fair to impose piecemeal restrictions.

"We ought not to be dividing the state, pitting one region against another," he said. "This is one state and we're all in this together."

Asked whether residents should be worried that they might find their water faucets dry two or three months from now, Glendening replied: "They should be worried.

"If conservation efforts do not work and if we do not get some rain, there logically will be a point at which water pressure will go down considerably. A number of smaller jurisdictions in the rural areas are already seeing that."

Apart from the restrictions, Glendening urged citizens to find easy ways to cut their daily water use. If Marylanders all cut shower time by one minute, he said, they will save 12.5 million gallons a day. Waiting for a full load of dirty clothes before doing the laundry would save more than 26 million gallons each day, he said.

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