Governor says residents must learn to conserve

He rejects Shore pleas to ease water restrictions

August 20, 1999|By Michael Dresser and Greg Garland | Michael Dresser and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

VIENNA -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening rejected yesterday calls from some communities on the Lower Eastern Shore, where the drought has been less severe than in other parts of the state, for eased restrictions on water use in that part of the state.

"We're still in a serious drought situation throughout the state," Glendening said while touring land the state is buying along the Nanticoke River. "We're one state, and the challenge for all of us is to conserve water."

The governor said the state is in the third year of a drought cycle and might have to change its water consumption patterns. "We're just going to have to urge people to rethink how much water they use," he said.

Glendening acknowledged that Maryland's tough conservation policy is out of step with some neighboring states that have imposed only voluntary controls. He noted the East Coast's relative lack of experience in dealing with prolonged drought.

"We've got to start moving toward more personal responsibility in the area of water usage -- even in good times," he said.

State officials announced yesterday that drought-stricken Maryland farmers can begin applying for $3 million in state grants to plant cover crops and to buy feed and water for livestock.

When he declared a statewide drought emergency Aug. 4, Glendening said the state would make the money available for agricultural drought relief.

The aid program, which will be administered by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, is intended to "help those who are suffering devastating crop losses and whose livestock are in immediate danger," Glendening said in a statement released yesterday.

Maryland farmers also are eligible for federal emergency loans and other assistance because of a federal disaster declaration.

Don Vandrey, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, said farmers are caught in a financial double-bind. The drought is causing production losses of 30 percent to 90 percent, while commodity prices are lower than in the 1950s, he said.

The state expects all $3 million in farm aid to be used, Vandrey said.

"We think this will give us a very good start on helping farmers to survive the immediate emergency, but clearly more will be needed," he said. "This will supplement what we anticipate farmers will receive through federal disaster assistance programs later this year."

The state aid will reimburse farmers who plant cover crops this fall -- such as rye, wheat, barley and spring oats. Cover crops provide a source of feed for livestock, and help the environment by keeping fertilizer that remains in the soil from washing into streams.

Farmers also can be reimbursed for planting certain grain crops this fall for harvest and sale in the spring. The aid carries restrictions on the use of manure and commercial fertilizer.

Applications for aid to plant cover crops and small grains must made by Sept. 3 at local soil conservation offices, Vandrey said.

The emergency state aid program also includes money to help offset the costs of buying and transporting water for livestock and for replenishing hay and other feed lost because of poor summer crop yields. Farmers can apply for these feed and water assistance grants through their local U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, Vandrey said.

While the state announced its financial aid program, five quarries and 15 fire companies in Washington County were putting together a plan to help area farmers whose wells are dry or whose crops need irrigation.

The plan calls for the county to set up a hot line for farmers. The county would then dispatch the nearest Washington County volunteer fire company to haul water donated by the quarries. Most fire company tankers carry 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of water.

State agriculture department officials said the program is well-intended but unlikely to save crops. They said livestock watering is not a widespread problem yet.

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