Questions about the water restrictions

August 06, 1999|By Frank D. Roylance

Marylanders are overflowing with questions in the wake of the mandatory statewide water restrictions imposed this week. Here are some of them, and the answers from state, federal and private experts.

The governor said we can water our "gardens" but that his azaleas will go thirsty. Can we water our flowers and shrubs or not?

The only outright watering ban is on lawns. We can water flowers, shrubs or vegetables, in gardens or pots, so long as we do it from cans, buckets or hand-held hoses. No sprinklers, no soaker hoses, no drips. An unattended hose uses 300 gallons an hour. The governor says he is sacrificing his azaleas to show he's really serious about this.

Is my lawn going to die?

Established grass will generally go dormant and turn brown. The weeds, however, may stay green and spread. When normal rainfall resumes, the grass will revive -- and sales of weed-killer and grass seed will be gigantic.

I just spent thousands of dollars on new landscaping, and it'll all die if I don't water it thoroughly. What do I do?

The new lawn may be toast. You can't water it. Period. You can water the shrubs and trees, but you'll have to stand there with a hose in your hand.

I have an ornamental pond with a fountain, but it recirculates its water. Can I keep it running?

Even recirculated water will evaporate eventually, and you would have to fill it again. Unless there are fish living in it (fish ponds are exempt), you'll have to shut it down.

My neighbors are pouring used dishwater on their vegetable garden and giving me their surplus cukes and tomatoes. Are they trying to kill me?

Probably not. The vegetables are safe to eat. We're encouraged to pour the dishpan into the garden, or keep a bucket in the bath or shower and do the same. Experts call it "gray" water, and they insist plants love the stuff. In fact, the soap may help fight off bugs.

Can I help by drinking bottled water instead of tap water?

Only if the bottled water comes from France or Iowa or someplace far beyond our drought-stricken rivers, aquifers and reservoirs.

How else can I conserve voluntarily around the house?

Wash only big loads of dishes or clothes. If possible, skip any nonessential rinse cycles. Put two kids in the tub at once. Take shorter showers; each extra minute consumes 5 to 10 gallons. Shut off the water while you brush and save 2 gallons. Don't hand-wash the dishes; the dishwasher uses half the water.

My pool's just a tiny plastic kiddie pool. Can't I fill it?

Sorry, kids. The governor says we all have to do our part. Kiddie pools are included in the ban. Try a large public pool. They're exempt from the restrictions.

I just built a new in-ground pool. My contractor says I have to fill it or risk damage. Is that true?

Yes. New in-ground pools need to be filled to avoid cracking and collapse. Fill 'er up.

My pool service guy says if I don't top off my pool, I'll wreck the filter pumps. What do I do?

He's right. If the water level falls below the skimmer intakes, the pumps will run dry and burn out. But the governor says you still can't add water. So, you have to shut off the pumps. And if the water isn't being filtered, it will be unsafe for swimming within 24 hours. Game over.

I have my own private well. Why should I have to obey the watering bans just because Baltimore's reservoirs are drying up ?

Because the low reservoirs and streams reflect more than a lack of rain. They also signal drops in the underground aquifers that supply your well and others across the state. The water you don't conserve is lost to you and your neighbors and won't be replenished until the rains come back. And unlike the city, you can't tap the Susquehanna.

How many warnings will I get before I risk a fine?

That's up to local law enforcement authorities. The governor has suggested at least one warning.

Can my neighbors turn me in?

The governor wants people to be nice and talk to each other about compliance. But yes, if that fails, you can call the police or drought hot lines being established in many jurisdictions. Just don't call 911. That's for real emergencies.

As the reservoirs get lower, does it concentrate the bad stuff and make the water harder to treat?

Yes, but officials say water is being tested more often and treated as needed. It will remain safe to drink.

Pub Date: 08/06/99

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