Officials talk over plan to save water

Some voluntary conservation is anticipated

Worsening drought feared

Northern area draws from Balto. system, may face restrictions

March 18, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County officials are dusting off a 1999 water conservation plan in anticipation of worsening drought conditions, especially in the northern tip of the county.

Members of the county's Drought Emergency Coordinating Committee met Friday to discuss educating residents about the elements of the plan - which includes water-saving measures such as taking shorter showers and shaving with the tap shut off - as well as how restrictions might affect some county departments and services.

"We anticipate some voluntary water conservation, but not mandatory," said Joe Byrnes, the county's director of emergency management. "However, areas that border Baltimore City may have some restrictions."

While most of the county's water comes from sandy aquifers - the Aquia, Magothy, Patapsco and Patuxent - some northern communities tap into Baltimore's system, which relies on rivers and reservoirs that have been hard hit by an unusually dry winter.

"We may end up with a situation where we have some restrictions on that group of people that will be different from the rest of the county," said Byrnes. New water restrictions might be announced by Gov. Parris N. Glendening today. If it rains, the announcement will be delayed.

About two months ago, the Department of the Environment upgraded the drought status for Central Maryland, which includes a portion of northern Anne Arundel County, from drought watch to drought warning. County officials anticipate that Glendening could announce a drought emergency for that area.

County residents with private wells also might feel the drought's effects.

"We encourage anyone who is on a private well to be doing voluntary water conservation," said Byrnes. "The way people use water, there is a lot that could be saved." About 85,000 Arundel residents have private wells.

Residents with muddy wells might need to have them deepened or redrilled, a procedure that could cost thousands of dollars, Byrnes said. But according to the county Health Department, which inspects newly drilled wells, only a handful of homeowners have taken that step.

The state Department of the Environment has been monitoring rainfall recently, said department spokesman John Verrico. What concerns officials is that the state's current rainfall deficit is worse than the peak shortfall recorded during the 1999 drought.

"We don't know what kind of rain we are going to get but we are set up to be in worse shape," said John Grace, a staff member with the state's water supply program, who added that it would take more than 10 inches of rain to cover the shortfall.

"If we get a good wet spring, we may not suffer that badly," he said.

In the meantime, state and county officials are encouraging residents to do all they can to save water, including scaling back the use of washing machines and dishwashers, and fixing leaky faucets.

"Use water wisely, that's the main message at this point," Verrico said.

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