Businesses ask state to ease water rules

Sod, pool industries seek exceptions

August 17, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Nearly two weeks after Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposed statewide water restrictions, more Maryland businesses are asking that the rules be eased, claiming special circumstances.

Sod farmers and swimming pool industry representatives are following the leads of carwash and golf course owners trying to get rules relaxed. Only carwashes have managed to win significant changes.

In a letter to Glendening, Maryland sod farmers said the ban on lawn watering is all but putting them out of business because people won't buy turf when they know they won't be allowed to water it.

"Our sales have been severely curtailed, if not completely halted," wrote Gary Wilber, president of the Maryland Turfgrass Association and the owner of Oakwood Sod Farm in Salisbury. He said Maryland has about 40 sod farms.

"We're wondering what makes a carwash job more important than a sod-installing job," Wilber said yesterday. "It really strikes at our sense of fairness that the government can shut down our industry and allow another to operate at 90 or 100 percent of their water usage."

He said sod planting is beneficial to the environment because it prevents soil erosion.

William M. Stedding, president of Green Manor Turf Farm in Sykesville, said he has had to lay off seven of the dozen workers at his company.

"There are people that want to buy [turf], but if they can't water it, there's no use," Stedding said. "I can't think of any other industry that is down, for all practical purposes, 100 percent. I think we're the only ones."

Pool industry lobbyist

The Alexandria, Va.-based National Spa and Pool Institute has hired a lobbyist in Annapolis to help press its case for lifting the ban on adding water to swimming pools. The institute represents pool manufacturers, maintenance companies and installers.

Jack B. Neil, the lobbyist, said health and safety concerns arise when a pool, because of evaporation and "splash-outs," drops below the level of skimmers used for filtering and chlorination.

He said he plans to send a letter within the next day or two to state officials asking that the restriction be eased.

David L. Karmol, the institute's general counsel, said people who spend $20,000 to $30,000 on a pool need to be able to protect that investment.

"What we're seeking is an exemption for pool owners so they would be able, as they are allowed for shrubs and trees, to use a hand-held hose" to add water to their swimming pools, Karmol said.

Decision defended

Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Glendening, said the impact of water restrictions on businesses is unfortunate but cannot be helped because of the severity of the drought afflicting Maryland and much of the mid-Atlantic.

"This was not set up to hurt any specific industry. But the fact of the matter is that in a water shortage, restrictions are going to hurt some people more than others," Morrill said.

Morrill and other officials defend the decision to ease the restrictions for commercial carwashes, some of which had been forced to close under the governor's original order. They say those businesses faced "extraordinary economic hardship" and use far less water than others that have sought waivers.

During the weekend, state officials rejected a plea for a blanket change that would have allowed Maryland's 185 golf courses to cut water use by 10 percent rather than 80 percent.

Course rules clarified

J. L. Hearn, water management director for the Maryland Department of the Environment, sent a letter to golf course owners yesterday clarifying the restrictions. But he stood by the decision to reject their plea for a change in statewide standards.

He wrote that golf courses could have unrestricted use of holding ponds on their courses that trap storm water runoff, as well as to treated wastewater or other sources that do not involve drinking water.

R. John Shields, president of the Maryland Golf Course Owners Association, said that policy is likely to leave most courses short of the water they need to keep valuable fairway turf alive.

Shields said course owners are trying to get state officials to meet with them to work out a compromise on their water use. If they cannot, he said, the owners may take the state to court to try to block enforcement of the restrictions.

Pub Date: 8/17/99

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