Rains didn't end drought, officials warn

Residents are urged to continue conservation

`Really need a good blizzard'

Possibility of failed wells, water bans still exists

Carroll County

May 19, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Despite the fair amount of rain in the past several weeks, Carroll County officials are urging residents to continue water conservation because the drought has not released its grip.

Reservoirs in the county remain low and ground-water levels are below average, county officials said. The last summer with above-normal rainfall was 1996, a year marked by several hurricanes.

The county Department of Public Works has mailed about 8,000 fliers detailing conservation measures to homeowners served by the public water system in South Carroll. The brochures also are available at the County Office Building in Westminster and at public library branches.

"People are getting the message, and they are conserving," said Douglas Myers, director of public works. "They are coming in to talk about the issue, and a few have gotten the conservation devices we offer."

Although many people think the rain has eased the situation, the possibility of failed wells and water bans still exists. Tom Devilbiss, county hydrogeologist, frequently hears from residents whose wells have gone dry in this, the fourth consecutive year of below-average rainfall.

"We are not as dire as we were, but we have not made significant gains," said Devilbiss. "At least ground-water levels have stabilized and are not dropping. We still need to conserve big time."

The county monitors 20 wells in different areas biweekly and compares the levels with 10 years of data. Most monitored wells are showing average or below-average levels, Devilbiss said.

The water table is rising slightly, but after prolonged drought, Devilbiss does not expect major changes until the fall and winter, and then only with impressive amounts of rain and snow.

"The reservoirs really need a good blizzard," Myers said. "There is nothing better than the runoff from melting snows."

Barring a blizzard, Myers would take a few drenching hurricanes - but not the damaging kind, he said.

The dry winters have been particularly detrimental to the ground-water table and have threatened many private wells, Devilbiss said.

Blaming dry winters

"From mid-April to mid-October, most water evaporates, runs off or the plants take it up and there is little recharging of the ground-water level," Devilbiss said. "We count on recharging from October to April, when the plants are dormant. We have had very dry winters lately, and that is why we are carrying deficits."

Towns such as Hampstead, Mount Airy and Taneytown, which rely on wells to supply water to residents, have been forced to impose water bans to ensure continuous service.

"Most towns run tight water budgets, and times like this can stress their systems," Devilbiss said.

Average demand on the county's water treatment plant in South Carroll - a system that serves nearly 20,000 people - has hovered about 2.2 million gallons daily, an amount the facility can easily handle, said Myers.

Hot weather ahead

He would like to maintain the plant at that level, but experience tells him hot weather usually brings spikes in demand that burden the 30-year-old plant.

The plant can draw as much as 3 million gallons a day from Liberty Reservoir, but it is working at capacity at that level.

A statewide ban and the spring rains have helped curb outdoor water use, said Myers. The weather has been a boon to lawns. Residents with above-ground pools could have filled smaller ones with the last month of showers, as Myers said he has done.

"If we get the predicted rains this weekend, my pool will be filled and it only took three weeks," Myers said. "And people definitely don't have to water their lawns. The recent rains have made the grass lush and green."

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