Glendening slows flow of Central Md. water

Drought restrictions affect seven counties

April 06, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK - Two spring rites - lawn sprinkling and driveway car washing - were declared taboo yesterday in most of Central Maryland as Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposed water-use restrictions that, at least for now, don't include Baltimore.

On a dry, sunny morning he considered suitable for the announcement, Glendening issued a drought emergency covering all of Carroll, Cecil, Frederick and Harford counties. Also subject to the mandatory curbs are portions of western Howard and northern Baltimore counties that aren't part of the Baltimore City service area, and sections of Montgomery County outside the range of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

The Baltimore area won a reprieve as spring showers have begun to replenish area reservoirs and the lower Susquehanna River. But it may be temporary.

The governor's staff warned that, after one of the driest winters on record, Baltimore is still in danger of being added to the drought zone. City reservoirs are about 30 percent below normal supply, and residents are being urged to conserve.

"We still have a long way to go to replenish our water supply," Public Works Director George L. Winfield said in a prepared statement.

In all, about 865,000 people will be affected by Glendening's order announced at a water treatment plant. The governor had initially planned to declare the emergency on March 18 but postponed it because rain fell that day and his staff feared the message wouldn't be taken seriously.

He said people were paying attention now.

"I believe most Marylanders do understand," Glendening said. "I don't think our problem will be as much education about the seriousness of the drought; it will be trying to answer questions from individual citizens: `What can I do to help be part of the solution?'"

The restrictions are the first issued by the governor since the drought of 1999. At this time in 1999, Maryland was about 2 1/2 inches below normal rainfall since the previous September. Now, the state is about 9 inches below normal, "and that's very significant," said Saeid Kasraei, a drinking water expert with the state Department of the Environment.

But yesterday's declaration differed from the one issued statewide in 1999. This time, Glendening targeted only areas hit the hardest.

"It varies around the state," the governor said. "Baltimore City, which is able to draw from the Susquehanna River, is not having quite the problem."

The restrictions forbid lawn watering, noncommercial car washing and using "ornamental" water for reflecting pools or artificial waterfalls. Restaurants can't serve tap water unless customers ask for it. The state will monitor reservoirs, ground-water levels and other indicators to determine whether to impose more severe restrictions or lower the drought status to a "warning" or a "watch."

Each of the restrictions contains exceptions. For example, sprinkler systems are permitted to help establish newly seeded areas or to maintain athletic fields and golf courses with a water conservation plan. Gardens can be watered with watering can or a hose, but not with a sprinkler.

The state has set up a drought hot line (1-877-437-6844) to field questions about the rules. Information is also available on the Web site, www.mde.state.md.us.

There were some beneficiaries from yesterday's announcement. Commercial car washes are still permitted to operate - and will likely profit from the ban on home car washing. The state has been encouraging the car washes to recycle as much water as possible.

"I'd imagine there'd be a pickup" in business, said Ian Gilbert, owner of Riverside Car Wash in Frederick. "We do a drought special and charge $2 to $4 off the regular rate."

It's up to counties and local municipalities to enforce the rules and set penalties.

Some water systems already have their own restrictions in place. These include Westminster in Carroll County, Cumberland in Allegany County and Thurmont in Frederick County.

"I think citizens have been confused by what is actually being requested of them," said Frederick County Commissioner Jan Gardner. "It has been enacted in a different way in different jurisdictions, depending on their supply of water."

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