Wise water habits avert shortages

March 26, 2002|By Ann Egerton

DESPITE THE recent rain, it appears that Maryland and much of the East Coast is becoming, if not a desert, a lot drier than normal.

The statistics are already terrifying since winter is traditionally our wettest season, and most days in recent months have been sunny and warm with cold, dry nights. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has said that Maryland is headed toward one of its severest droughts ever, having experienced its fourth-driest winter since records were first kept in 1871.

I've lost track of how many times we've been asked to cut back on our water consumption over the years. I remember odd/even days back in the '50s, when citizens could water their lawns and wash their cars according to street number. This was way before anyone mentioned global warming.

Meanwhile, the population goes up (75 million more people in the United States than 30 years ago) and water consumption goes up with it. That's not likely to change, and we're not likely to strike water.

Perhaps it's time, especially following a most unusual winter drought that seems to be segueing into a spring drought, that we be proactive rather than reactive. Perhaps we should put some conservation provisions in place that are permanent, not temporary. Perhaps it's time we each begin to conserve water every day, every week, every year - 24/7, as the kids say.

Our habits must change, from how often we use the washing machine or dishwasher, and how carefully we fill them, to when and how often we water our gardens and lawns, if we can at all. Our farmers' needs must be a priority, and the state must instruct us repeatedly on how we can help. People who depend on wells for their water must also be a special concern.

Now is when each of us must consciously save water, such as turning off the faucet while we brush our teeth, not serving water automatically in restaurants and other tiny individual acts that culminate in conserving thousands of gallons a day.

It's said that taking a shower uses less water than taking a bath. Get that dripping faucet and running toilet fixed today. Heads of businesses, government agencies, hospitals and schools should examine their water consumption. Our children and grandchildren should learn better habits than we have shown.

This is the year to mulch around plants to keep in the moisture. This is the year to water the lawn much less; the grass will only go dormant. Mow the lawn less frequently and higher, to shade the earth from the sun's rays. This is the year to get a rain barrel and a soaker hose, to experiment with xeriscaping (gardening with plants that need very little water to survive.)

In his State of the Union speech, President Bush urged Americans of all ages to be volunteers in activities that would help this country and its citizens. Let's each change our habit of squandering water. Conservation of water is something we should all be doing, every day, not just when it's dry. This should not be because the government tells us to but because it's necessary; if we get into sensible habits, we may be spared serious deprivation later.

If we all cooperate and if we get at least some regular rainfall, (and we should, since the annual rate in Maryland is normally more than 40 inches), we can cope. If we're both careful and lucky, we won't even have to be heroic.

Let's begin now. Conserving gas and oil are next.

Ann Egerton is a free-lance writer who lives in Baltimore City.

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