State still needs rain

Forecast predicts no significant accumulation

Worst drought in 70 years

Water consumption down in Baltimore, surrounding counties

August 09, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The scattered showers that fell across the Baltimore area yesterday might have provided a small measure of relief for parched lawns, but they won't cure the drought that's destroying Maryland's crops, or lead to an easing of statewide water restrictions.

"The rain did absolutely nothing but increase the humidity," said J. L. Hearn, director of water management at the Maryland Department of the Environment. "To end the drought, we'd need at least 20 inches of rain -- two major tropical storms -- which isn't in the forecast."

Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-80s today and tomorrow as a cold front moving in from the Northwest sweeps away the humidity, said Jim DeCarufel, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sterling, Va. Scattered showers are forecast Wednesday for Baltimore and its suburbs as a warm front moves in from the West, DeCarufel said.

Like yesterday's showers, Wednesday's rainfall is not likely to accumulate more than one-tenth of an inch, DeCarufel said. But the slightest precipitation will be welcome, farmers said.

"Every drop helps," said Carroll County Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a semiretired dairyman who grows corn and soybeans on 1,300 acres in Westminster. "We had a nice shower here this morning, but it's not the kind of steady showers we need."

Many area residents agreed.

"I wish we got more rain, and I wish the situation wasn't as bad," said Jason Blau, 36, of North Baltimore, who toured the Inner Harbor yesterday with his two children. "But I guess we can't complain too much -- we did get something."

West Baltimore resident Cheryl Bailey said that she's been praying daily for rain. "God sure does answer prayers," she said. "I'm believing that he's going to send more rain our way."

40 percent less rain

The small amount of rain -- 40 percent less than normal in the last year -- has caused the worst drought in Maryland in 70 years. It last rained July 30, when .02 inches fell at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Dell said yesterday's rainfall will not affect his county's prohibitions. "It would take normal rainfall, or above normal rainfall, to change anything between now and November," Dell said of Carroll's prohibition against outdoor water use.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening issued statewide water restrictions Wednesday, making routine summertime activities -- watering lawns and filling swimming pools -- criminal acts. The governor is asking most businesses to voluntarily cut water use by 10 percent.

In the wake of the governor's executive order, water use throughout the Baltimore region dropped significantly. Among the 1.8 million Baltimore and suburban residents who draw from the city system, water use fell from 343 million gallons July 28, the day before the governor declared a drought emergency, to 257 million gallons Thursday, the day after Glendening ordered the water restrictions, city officials said.

Slightly more than 257 million gallons of water were used Saturday by customers of the city system, compared with 326 million gallons on the same date last year, said Kurt L. Kocher, a spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works.

Starting today, Baltimore officials expect to draw 50 million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna River to add to the city water system.

"It's water we won't have to draw from the reservoirs, but it's not going to affect our enforcement of the governor's water ban," Kocher said. City officials will begin citing violators today. Violators might be fined up to $1,000 and could be sentenced to six months in jail.

Inconsistent enforcement

Enforcement of Glendening's statewide water restrictions has been spotty. While Montgomery County officials have set civil fines for violators and authorized more than 700 police officers and county workers to confront violators, leaders in Prince George's County say they won't fine violators.

In Anne Arundel County, officials are distributing 15,000 informational fliers on the water restrictions. In Howard County, officials say only the most extreme violations will result in fines.

The inconsistencies in how the regulations are enforced at first confused many Marylanders. Calls to the state Department of the Environment peaked at 300 to 400 calls an hour immediately after the restrictions were announced. But by yesterday afternoon, calls had dropped significantly, to about 25 an hour.

"As the word gets out, there seems to be a lot less confusion," Hearn said, noting media coverage of the water restrictions.

For more information, check the Department of Environment's Web site at www.mde.state.md.us or call 877-4DROUGHT between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. weekdays or 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekends.

Sun staff writer Jamal E. Watson contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 8/09/99

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