For many, watchword is water

Some report misuse

others use creativity to save precious drops

August 06, 1999|By Zanto Peabody | Zanto Peabody,SUN STAFF

The first day of state-imposed water restrictions brought out the whistleblowers, innovators and philosophers in Howard County.

The day after Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced limits on watering gardens, washing cars and filling swimming pools, some residents did not hesitate to tattle on their neighbors. The emergency restrictions carry the threat of warnings and possible fines and jail time.

County police spokesman Sgt. Morris Carroll said, "We are encouraging people not to call the police," but rather just say something to a neighbor who may be violating the water restrictions. The department has been getting calls from people anyway and giving verbal warnings in some cases.

"I had a lady call me before about a water truck filling up from a fire hydrant," he said. "There's nothing wrong with that."

Carroll supposed that the truck belonged to a group of contractors that buys public water to use in landscaping and swimming pool businesses. Filling those trucks, he said, remains legal under the restrictions.

No one has been arrested or fined for water violations.

A vigilant caller to The Sun's Howard County bureau was ready to give the goods on a golf course she thought was violating water restrictions.

"I drove by Hobbit's Glen off Harpers Farm Road two times today and they are watering their greens, sprinkling their greens," she said. "When I called [the Columbia Association] about it they said they had a special exception for one minute. Fifteen minutes is not one minute. You might want to check into it."

Bob Bellamy, director of operations for the sport and fitness division of the Columbia Association, said CA began voluntary water-saving measures last week, including using water from ponds to irrigate the greens.

William Lake took the spirit of the governor's restrictions a step further. Rather than just cut back on his water use, Lake came up with a way to keep cool and recycle gallons of water at the same time.

He collects in a bucket the condensation dripping from three air conditioning units in the Treover condominiums in Long Reach. On a short piece of pipe, drips become trickles, and overnight 2 gallons of water rise in the bucket. He gathers another 2 gallons by midday.

"You can use that to water your plants," Lake said. "Or you could really use it for anything. It's clean water with no chemicals in it."

Lake is one of a number of Howard County residents who did not need a state announcement to know it was time to start conserving water. When the creek that runs behind Lake's home near Jeffers Hill Elementary School stopped flowing altogether nearly a week ago, he began recycling his shower water.

Landscapers, farmers and cattle raisers, too, had begun slowing down their work before official word came down from Annapolis, led by necessity and common sense.

"There is no restriction on agriculture," said H. M. Bassard, owner of Columbia Lawn Care. "So at nurseries, we can keep watering. But we weren't planting much because the ground conditions were not good."

Teresa Stonesifer's West Friendship family raises beef cows on 97 acres in West Friendship. Restrictions or no restrictions, the drought has forced the Stonesifers to dip into an old well and into winter hay reserves to feed cattle, which have lost weight while grazing brittle grasses near powder-dry stream beds.

Some children participating in the Howard County Fair -- which has weight requirements for livestock and begins tomorrow -- are in for a disappointment when they prepare to show their animals.

Stonesifer viewed it as a fatalist's opportunity to teach children the inevitability of disaster.

"Some of these kids are going to find out when they get to the fair that they're just not going to make it," Stonesifer said. "The heat has really knocked [the weight of livestock] back. This is one of those learning things. There's nothing that can be done to change it."

The idea of a water emergency conjures images of cracked ground, famished cattle, glaring sunsets. But as much as the drought and subsequent water limits dry up the efforts of families who depend on agriculture for a living, they also put a damper on leisure activities.

"The pools are really not impacted," Bellamy said, "but we have put up signs requesting members to keep showers short, and we're not hosing or bucketing off the [concrete] decks [around the pools]."

At three indoor pools -- Columbia Swim Center in Wilde Lake, Supreme Sports Club in Owen Brown and the Columbia Gym in River Hill -- CA will save about a million gallons of water by not emptying them for cleaning this year.

Lloyd Thacker, owner of the Columbia Exxon on Little Patuxent Parkway, said the station's car wash is open. But he said its water use has been reduced 80 percent, as Glendening's order requires.

That means no "prep" wash by hand with a high-powered water gun; one less sprinkler in the rinse cycle; and no "under carriage" treatment, in which water is sprayed under the vehicle.

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