Saving water? That's old hat in Manchester

Carroll town has survived five years of restrictions

August 06, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

To any Marylanders whining about water restrictions, the little town of Manchester has this to say: Cry me a river, and recycle the tears.

Manchester has lived under strict water use rules for five years -- including a permanent ban on watering lawns and filling or topping off swimming pools -- because of its chronic water shortage.

The experience has hardened the Carroll County town's 3,100 residents, making them as stingy with a gallon of HO as Scrooge with a shilling.

Vigilant homeowners capture rainwater in 55-gallon drums, recycle laundry water or collect water from their morning showers in buckets. And they have found a place in their hearts for lawns growing without the benefit of sprinklers.

"We've adopted a slogan here, `Brown is beautiful,' " said David M. Warner, the former town manager who has led the town through its thirstiest years.

Those years started in 1994, when the state forced the town to shut down two of three springs it used for its water supply. State environmental officials suspected the springs might be contaminated from surface runoff.

Ever since, the town has worked to make up the loss of the two springs, which accounted for 35 percent of the town water supply.

Manchester depends on one spring and three wells. Two more wells are expected to go into use by the end of the year.

The town has continued to keep water use in check with year-round bans and a conservation program.

Been there, done that

News of state restrictions was greeted with as much alarm as another forecast without rain.

"So what?" said Don Diseroad, a retired postal inspector who moved here from Baltimore County two years ago. "It doesn't make a difference to us."

It doesn't. Most of the state restrictions duplicate the bans already in place in Manchester.

Manchester Municipal Hall sells low-flow shower heads, toilet bowl dams and dye to check for water leaks. It's not unusual to see rainspouts directed into barrels for later use.

Former Mayor Elmer C. Lippy has become somewhat of a town legend for his exploits conserving water. At his York Street home, Lippy saves 518 gallons of water each week, recycling it from his shower water, wash water and dehumidifier.

A series of drainage pipes, pumps and hoses carry the water to his garden of tomatoes, string beans and lima beans.

"It's quite a chore," said Lippy, "but it pays off."

The proof is in his garden, which has produced three pickings of string beans.

Although the town was resistant to the water restrictions at first, residents eventually followed Lippy's example.

"Good relations and honest information will help a lot. The people will cooperate. It's not meant to scare them. If the water stops, we stop," Lippy said.

Following the rules

Residents also grew less shy of turning in people who break the rules, town officials said.

"It's amazing. They really abide by the mandatory ban. We get calls from neighbors who see their neighbors watering the lawn," said Steven L. Miller, director of public works for Manchester.

If caught, residents must pay a $25 fine for their first offense and $50 each time thereafter.

Most offenders, however, are new residents who don't know the rules. They're let go with a warn- ing, Miller said. Several people have paid fines over the years.

Violators of state restrictions face steeper penalties: $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

For Manchester resident Elmer Davidson, the state restrictions were welcome news.

"I think it should have started sooner," said Davidson, who learned the value of water when he was forced to pump it by hand as a child.

You won't see Davidson's wife, Isabelle, doing a half-load of laundry or leaving the water on while she brushes her teeth, either. She has developed a habit of catching rainwater from her garage roof in a steel meat barrel and recycling rinse water from her kitchen sink and washer.

"I remember the drought in the Depression," she said yesterday, as she sprinkled her flower garden with soapy water from her washer. "We've always saved water."

Pub Date: 8/06/99

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