State plans water limits

Governor to set restrictions for homes, businesses

Most of Central Md. affected

Rivers and streams at lowest levels since 1930s in some areas

March 16, 2002|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Lawn watering and home car washing will be forbidden in most of Central Maryland, and area businesses will have to cut their water use by 10 percent under mandatory water conservation measures to be announced by Gov. Parris N. Glendening early next week.

Glendening spokesman Michael E. Morrill said the governor plans to declare a drought emergency Monday for Baltimore City, all of Baltimore, Cecil, Harford and Howard counties, and parts of Montgomery and northern Anne Arundel counties.

The declaration might be delayed by a day or two if rain falls Monday, he said, but the restrictions are inevitable.

"We have an ongoing joke around here that whenever we declare a drought emergency, we need umbrellas," Morrill said. But, he added, "we're so far down, we'd need 11 inches of rain in the next few days" to alleviate drought conditions and dodge the cutbacks.

The governor's drought-emergency order would allow Baltimore City to avoid mandatory restrictions for now, but city officials have chosen to go along with the cutbacks, said George L. Winfield, director of the city's Department of Public Works.

The city has a 160-day water reserve in its reservoirs, so Baltimore is not officially facing a drought emergency, Winfield said, "but we can't predict what's going to happen three weeks from now."

"The bottom line is we believe it'll be prudent for the city to follow the lead of the governor in implementing some mandatory restrictions."

Winfield said the city considers a water emergency to be a 120-day supply in the reservoirs.

The restrictions come as much of the mid-Atlantic region faces a record-setting drought.

Water levels in Maryland's rivers, streams and wells are at their lowest since the 1960s, and in some cases since the 1930s. Every part of the state except Garrett County has received less than 60 percent of its normal rainfall, and water reserves are at the point where they would usually be at the end of a dry summer.

In Baltimore, February precipitation was the scantiest it has been since record keeping began in 1871. The National Weather Service recorded 0.36 inches - the only February in 131 years to measure less than a half-inch.

The entire state is under a drought watch, with all citizens urged to conserve water voluntarily.

Drought emergencies have been declared in New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania, and Delaware is under a drought watch.

Morrill said the restrictions will be similar to those imposed during the drought of 1999, when Glendening became the first Maryland governor ever to order mandatory water-use cutbacks.

As in 1999, homeowners will be able to water their gardens with only a bucket or a handheld hose that shuts off when unattended, and they'll be forbidden to wash cars at home, Morrill said.

Businesses will face less severe cuts than the August 1999 restrictions, when car washes were initially forced to cut water use by 45 percent, Morrill said.

Those steep cuts drew protests at the time and were scaled back within days. This time, commercial water users will have to reduce their consumption by 10 percent, Morrill said.

Also as in 1999, state and local police will ticket violators, who would face fines for flouting the order.

The governor's order will include new elements that were not in place three years ago, Morrill said.

One provision would allow utilities which draw from sources that have not fallen to emergency levels to opt out of the mandatory restrictions.

The opt-out provision could apply to Baltimore City, which has tapped the Susquehanna River to conserve its reservoirs.

The city has also asked residents to conserve voluntarily, and consumption is down 6 percent from last year, Winfield said.

Early this week, Mayor Martin O'Malley wrote a letter asking the governor to exclude the city from mandatory cutbacks.

But Winfield said the governor's office has assured city officials that the new restrictions will not be the same as those imposed in August 1999.

The city needs to conserve because an abundant supply from the Susquehanna River is not a sure thing, Winfield said.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which controls use of the river, has decided not to declare a drought emergency. But it could restrict the city's access to the river if the drought deepens, Winfield said.

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