For the first time, Westminster is considering its own drought management plan to curtail water use during dry weather conditions.
Although the city implemented water-use restrictions in the fall, it has not had a formal plan in place. Its restrictions included prohibitions on watering grass and filling pools. Worsening drought conditions prompted the state to implement similar restrictions in the spring.
Despite torrential downpours this past month, Westminster officials are concerned about water levels at the city's public water sources, including a reservoir along Cranberry Branch north of Lucabaugh Mill Road and wells.
"Though we've had a tremendous break from Mother Nature these past three to four months, so that the reservoir is close to 90 percent [capacity], there was a time in the fall when it was around 30 percent," said Council President Damian L. Halstad.
The Westminster Common Council is expected to adopt a drought management plan at its meeting tonight. The plan would become effective July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.
Under the proposal, city officials would conduct a routine assessment of conditions - precipitation levels, stream flows, ground water levels and reservoir storage - to determine whether action is needed.
A color-coded system would define drought conditions and the city's response, which would range from minimal conservation to outright bans.
`Behind the eight ball'
"We were alarmed when we didn't have a plan in place. We were dealing in a reactive way. That's what prompted this, we found ourselves behind the eight ball. This plan will make sure it doesn't happen again," Halstad said. "It does a nice job of setting benchmarks so that actions automatically occur. Once we hit certain levels, the restrictions will kick in and we can take steps so that problems won't get any worse."
Under the color-coded system, green would mean normal conditions with the city recommending water conservation, such as reducing outdoor water use and turning off water when brushing your teeth.
Also during this stage, the city would take precautions aimed at checking for leaks.
Yellow would mean dry conditions caused by declining rainfall. Voluntary restrictions would be in effect - without penalties - when the reservoir falls below 21 feet.
At that point, city residents would be asked to stop outdoor water use, such as hosing down paved areas, using water for ornamental fountains, washing vehicles and filling swimming pools.
Red would mean the most dire drought conditions, when mandatory water use restrictions would be in effect - enforced by penalties. This stage becomes effective with a written order from the mayor, who will take his cue from the director of planning and public works.
At this stage, the reservoir would have fallen below 17 feet, and the restrictions would be in place until the reservoir rose to 24.3 feet.
The verification and enforcement of the stages would fall under the jurisdiction of the city's code enforcement and police departments. Each initial violation would cost $200 with $400 for repeat offenses.