Governor issues a rain check on drought plans

Emergency status not declared

showers delay announcement

10% cut in water use urged

March 19, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's plans to declare a drought emergency for Central Maryland were postponed yesterday ... by rain.

With a light drizzle and showers in the region, and more predicted for today and tomorrow, the governor instead issued a news release, exhorting Marylanders to act voluntarily to reduce their water consumption by 10 percent.

"We still anticipate declaring [a] drought emergency for Central Maryland unless the rain continues for much longer than predicted," Glendening said. "And it will not be the only region to fall into emergency status if we do not take immediate steps to conserve water."

Officially, Central Maryland remains in what the state calls an "imminent drought emergency." Included are Cecil, Carroll, Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Frederick counties, as well as Baltimore City, and portions of northern Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.

The rest of the state remains under a drought "watch," or "warning," which both call on businesses and residents to conserve.

The governor urged every Maryland household and business yesterday to find ways to cut water consumption voluntarily by 10 percent. During the statewide drought emergency and watering bans he imposed in August 1999, water usage fell by as much as 15 or 20 percent, he said.

"The key to getting through this long-term is for every Maryland home and business to show the same commitment to conservation that we saw three years ago," Glendening said. He asked Marylanders to find and repair leaky plumbing, landscape with drought-tolerant plants, and use brooms instead of hoses to clean hard surfaces.

"With all Marylanders working together, we can see a reduction of at least 10 percent."

The governor had been scheduled to declare a drought emergency yesterday during an appearance at a water treatment plant in Frederick. The announcement was postponed by rain, but not because those present might get wet.

"It's the psychology," said Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill. "The most important thing in announcing the restrictions is getting the public to comply with them. ... When it's raining outside, people will forget there's a need for them. ... You want to announce it when people are focused on it."

When the rain lets up, and the first mandatory "Level One" restrictions are announced, they will bar the watering of lawns and the automated watering of gardens. Hosing down paved areas, and noncommercial washing of cars and other mobile equipment also will be banned.

There are exemptions, and 10 percent cuts in consumption would remain voluntary for residences and most businesses.

Deeper cuts in water usage - including mandatory 10 percent reductions - would be imposed if the drought worsens in the coming months, and a "Level Two" emergency is declared.

Morrill said the full list of rules would be posted some time today on the Maryland Department of the Environment Web site:

Under a drought emergency, local jurisdictions such as Baltimore, whose sources of water have not yet fallen to emergency levels, would be allowed to forgo enforcement of the rules. Baltimore officials, however, have said the city would go along with the curbs.

Any jurisdictions that want to impose rules more stringent than the state's will be free to do so. About a dozen communities, including Westminster, Cumberland and Thurmont, have imposed mandatory curbs on water usage.

The rainfall deficit accumulated since Sept. 1 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport has now topped 13 inches, and March rains are almost a half-inch below normal.

The light rain, drizzle and showers that moved into the region over the weekend have not eased the drought.

"To overcome the deficit, we not only have got to get normal rainfall in the next several months; we've got to get above-normal rainfall," said Dewey Walston, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va.

Rainfall totals over the weekend ranged from a few hundredths of an inch, to more than a half-inch. Instruments at BWI recorded .45 of an inch.

Up to an inch more may be on the way. The forecast for Baltimore called for a "slight chance" of more rain by late this morning, with chances increasing to 70 percent by afternoon. There is an 80 percent chance of "occasional" rain overnight, with more rain likely tomorrow morning, forecasters said. But the rest of the week looks dry.

"We are in a different pattern than we were in the winter months," Walston said. "The lows are tracking over, or near us, and we're getting rain every few days. That's the way it's supposed to be this time of year."

Runoff from the weekend rains brought a handful of Maryland streams back to seasonal norms, at least temporarily. But across most of the state yesterday, stream flows remained well below normal, and many rivers and creeks still ran at record lows for this time of year.

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