Water consumption declines about 10% across Maryland

Improvement at low end of hoped-for figures

no new restrictions in sight

August 19, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Water consumption in Maryland was down 10 percent the first full week after mandatory water restrictions were imposed, according to state calculations released yesterday.

The drop was at the lower end of the 10 percent to 15 percent savings that state officials had hoped for, but Gov. Parris N. Glendening said circumstances do not warrant imposing additional water-use restrictions.

The governor urged residents to keep finding creative ways to conserve water.

"Every long-term forecast indicates that the drought in Maryland will continue," Glendening said. "The situation remains serious. Every drop that Marylanders conserve helps ensure that we will have sufficient water reserves to outlast the immediate crisis."

The figures released yesterday compare the average daily water consumption for the week of Aug. 8 with the daily average for the month of August over the past five years.

Average daily water use was 519 million gallons last week -- 10 percent less than the 577 million gallon daily average for August the past five years, according to figures compiled from water utilities around the state.

"This is at the low end of what we were hoping for, but it is within the range of what we expected based on the restrictions we put in place," said Mike Morrill, the governor's spokesman. "We feel like we're getting very good compliance around the state."

The sharpest drop in water consumption, 12.6 percent, was in the Baltimore area. Water use rose slightly in Western Maryland, despite the mandatory restrictions that took effect Aug. 4.

A drought-management expert at the Johns Hopkins University cautioned that the figures released by the governor's office are not very meaningful in measuring the effects of the water restrictions.

"It's just a very, very crude indication of what is happening," said John J. Boland, professor of geography and environmental engineering.

To get a true picture, a water-use model would have to be devised that controls for such things as differences in temperature, precipitation, population and economic activity each year, he said.

"I have no doubt that it went down, and somewhere around 10 percent is not unreasonable," Boland said. "It's in the ballpark of what you would expect -- 10 to 20 percent."

Morrill said water utility company managers and scientists at the Maryland Department of the Environment decided that using the five-year average was the best way to track and compare water consumption.

Boland, who specializes in water conservation and drought management and is co-author of a recent book on managing urban water supplies, questions more than the numbers coming from the governor's office. He said imposing statewide restrictions was "a huge mistake."

Boland said supply problems vary across the state, depending on utilities' water sources. Utilities know best whether restrictions are needed and when they should be imposed, he said, not the state.

For example, he said, the U.S. Geological Survey's monitoring of wells in Maryland indicates the water levels in deep-water aquifers were above average last month. Boland said it can take many months or years for drought to affect those aquifers, and no valid reason exists to restrict water use in communities that draw from them.

Similarly, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission -- serving Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- and the Baltimore-area water system appear to have adequate levels and should have been allowed to manage their supplies as they saw fit, he said.

"The governor is confusing a meteorological drought with a water-supply shortage," Boland said. "They are not necessarily the same thing. There is no such thing as a statewide water-supply problem."

Morrill said the governor got advice from many water experts before he imposed statewide water restrictions. He noted that 60 of the state's communities had voluntary or mandatory restrictions in place when the statewide drought emergency was declared.

"He did not make this decision lightly," Morrill said. "People can second-guess and can offer other opinions, but the governor had to make a decision based on the health, welfare and safety of the citizens of Maryland."

Morrill said Delaware and New Jersey also have imposed mandatory statewide restrictions, and Pennsylvania has put in place restrictions "in numerous counties."

Mandatory water-use restrictions

Here is a summary of the statewide mandatory water restrictions ordered by Gov. Parris N. Glendening on Aug. 4:

Yards: Grass cannot be watered. Flowers, shrubs and vegetables can be watered from a bucket, can or hand-held hose.

Cars: Cars cannot be washed except at commercial carwashes.

Pools: Backyard pools cannot be filled or topped off. Newly built pools can be filled. No restrictions on public pools serving 25 or more households.

Fountains: Ornamental fountains and waterfalls must be turned off. Ornamental pools cannot be filled or topped off unless they contain live fish.

Paved surfaces: Sidewalks, driveways and parking lots cannot be hosed down.

Restaurants: Patrons cannot be served water unless they ask for it.

Businesses: Most businesses using more than 10,000 gallons a day are asked to cut use by 10 percent. Golf courses ordered to cut watering of fairways by 80 percent.

Information: 1-877-437-6844, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, or check the Department of the Environment's Web site, www. mde.state.md.us.

Water use compared

The state says water usage is down 10 percent statewide with the Baltimore area down 12.6 percent.

Area % reduction*

Baltimore area 12.6%

Washington area 9.1

Eastern Shore 2.1

Western Md. -0.7

Southern Md. 8.4

Other 8.4

*5-year daily average for August vs. Aug. 8-14, 1999, average

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