Water limits set to begin

High-consumption acts could result in fine

`Drought-level restrictions'

Initiative starts tomorrow in city, Balto. County

August 09, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Standing on the dry, rocky shore of a shrinking reservoir, Baltimore's public works director announced mandatory water restrictions yesterday to prevent shortages during the summer drought.

George L. Winfield warned that beginning Saturday, police in the city and Baltimore County might begin fining people up to $100 if authorities catch them watering their lawns or washing their cars.

"There has been a lack of rainfall and high temperatures, and we now have to ask people to be more conservative with their water," Winfield said. "We must impose drought-level restrictions."

The Baltimore Police Department, fighting a surge in juvenile homicides this summer, will not organize a "sprinkler task force" to hunt down errant gardeners, said Deputy Police Commissioner John McEntee.

But if patrol officers see people spraying their lawns, they might remind them of the restrictions or write a few tickets to make the point that conservation is important, McEntee said.

The city last imposed water restrictions in the summer of 1999. It lasted 45 days, and police issued a handful of tickets, officials said.

Oppressive heat and meager rainfall - 19 inches this year, about 6 inches below normal - have combined to create what the city Public Works Department called a "drought emergency."

The problem has become more severe because the Susquehanna River, from which the city also draws water, has fallen to levels that have required the city to cut its pumping by two-thirds.

The city's three reservoirs - Loch Raven, Liberty and Prettyboy - together hold about 80 billion gallons to serve 1.8 million people in the Baltimore metropolitan area. They are down to 53 percent of their normal capacity, according to the Department of Public Works.

Tomorrow, residents of Baltimore and Baltimore County will be asked to shut off their sprinklers.

In addition:

Washing driveways, sidewalks, tennis courts or patios is prohibited.

Ornamental fountains and waterfalls should be shut off, unless they use systems that recycle water.

Serving water in restaurants is discouraged, unless a customer specifically requests it.

Residents may use hand-held hoses to water their gardens for short periods, but they may not use automatic sprinklers unless it's required to prevent the death of a newly sodded lawn.

Jim DeCarufel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, predicted more dry weather for the weekend, with temperatures in the 80s tomorrow and in the 90s Sunday.

It might rain Wednesday or Thursday, DeCarufel said. But a small amount of rain won't help reverse the drought conditions.

"It's been drier than normal since last fall," he said. "We're going to need the type of rain that would be produced by a tropical storm system - and we don't see that coming."

The restrictions could continue for several months, until the water level in the city's three reservoirs rises to at least 80 percent or 90 percent of normal capacity, Kocher said.

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