Arundel fire stations' free drinking water draws little interest

County says it will leave offer on the table because of wells dried by drought

August 23, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Temperatures hung in the 90s, the area's worst drought in more than a century continued without relief -- but the Anne Arundel County Fire Department got a worse-than-tepid response yesterday to its offer of free drinking water for those whose wells are running dry.

As of late yesterday, firefighters at the Riva and West Annapolis stations -- both in areas where residents have reported problems with their wells --said no one had stopped by yesterday asking for water.

Still, county officials say they will continue making drinking water available at 20 of the county's 29 fire stations.

"We just want people to know this is an option for them," said Capt. Lee Cornwell, a spokesman for the county Fire Department.

The move is the latest sign of the drought's impact in the county, where the number of applications for well-replacement permits increased 45 percent last month compared with July last year and where some contractors have a three-week backlog on well-drilling orders.

"Because of what we were hearing, we think there is a potential problem," said Matt Diehl, a spokesman for County Executive Janet S. Owens, who announced this week that the Fire Department would make drinking water available.

The situation in Anne Arundel isn't as dire as it is in places such as Frederick and Westminster, where officials are considering trucking in water. Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty announced plans yesterday to haul in as many as 4 million gallons a day at the cost of a "small fortune."

Although Anne Arundel County residents still have water when they turn on the tap, the lack of rain has left some deep wells nearly dry, meaning the water they yield might not be of drinking quality.

Kerry Topovski, program manager for the county's sanitary engineering division, said 41 applications for well-replacement permits have been filed this month, compared with 48 in all of August last year. Last month, her office handled 61 permit applications, compared with 42 the previous July, she said.

Residents near fire stations that are linked to the county water supply can fill containers with drinking water at them. Those stations include two in the southern part of the county -- the Jennifer Road station in West Annapolis and the Riva Road station -- and 18 in the north part of the county.

The nine stations not giving out drinking water are on wells, Cornwell said, and firefighters there drink bottled water. Most of the stations supplied by well water are in the southern part of the county or near the Chesapeake Bay.

Cornwell stressed that water for fighting fires is rarely in short supply in Anne Arundel County, which is bordered on the east by the bay and several large rivers.

"We're not at the point where we need to worry about water to fight fires," Cornwell said. "Drinking water is the real issue right now."

Other counties in the area have not made drinking water available at their fire stations, but said they would if residents complain of dry wells.

"Everybody should be thinking that way," said Battalion Chief M. Sean Kelly of Howard County.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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