Stricter water limits planned

Governor likely to impose 10% cuts in business use

Voluntary conservation failing

Executive order expected to include Eastern Shore

August 24, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

With conservation efforts failing to hit their mark, Gov. Parris N. Glendening will implement more stringent water restrictions next week in the face of worsening drought conditions, officials said yesterday.

The governor's office would not release details, but it appeared likely that Glendening would require a 10 percent reduction in water use by businesses in central and eastern Maryland through an executive order issued Monday or Tuesday. He is also expected to extend a drought emergency to the entire Eastern Shore.

Most of the Shore is under a drought warning, meaning that residents have not been subject to compulsory water-use reductions.

Central Maryland, including metropolitan Baltimore, is under the stricter drought emergency, with prohibitions on watering of most grass and washing of cars, driveways and sidewalks.

"Due to the historic and persistent nature of the drought in Maryland, the governor early next week is to announce substantial steps focusing on conservation and personal responsibility," said Chuck Porcari, a spokesman for the governor.

The governor first instituted limits for Central Maryland in April, but omitted some recommendations of an advisory committee because they were designed for summer months.

Those will likely be imposed next week, through what officials are calling Level 2 restrictions, and include:

Banning the filling or topping off of swimming pools, except for new construction or public pools.

Limiting irrigation and watering of golf courses. Tees and greens could be watered between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., and fairway watering would be reduced by 30 percent.

Reducing water use on athletic fields by half.

Restricting the use of handheld hoses on garden plants, shrubs and landscaping to between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Additionally, Glendening, who has asked only for voluntary business and industry conservation measures, could require a 10 percent reduction next week, sources said. Enforcement and penalties for violations will be administered by local jurisdictions, officials said.

With 11 months of below-average precipitation in the past year, many of Maryland's streams are at all-time lows, and city reservoirs are less than half full. State environmental officials said Maryland's rainfall shortage far exceeds that of the last drought, in 1999.

"Our statewide rainfall deficit right now is 13.5 inches," said John S. Verrico, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "At the height of the 1999 drought, it was eight and a half inches."

Greater water savings measures are needed, Verrico said, because current efforts have failed to meet their target of a 10 percent reduction in usage.

"There are only two things that will get us out of drought," he said. "One is a lot of rain, which we are not getting. And the other thing is conservation. We have not been seeing the kind of water consumption reduction we were hoping to see."

The April order applied to most of Cecil, Carroll, Harford, Howard, and Frederick counties and portions of Baltimore and Montgomery counties not served by municipal water supplies in Baltimore.

On Aug. 10, Baltimore City imposed the same restrictions on its customers, which in addition to the city include parts of southern Baltimore County, eastern Howard County and northern Anne Arundel County, and portions of Carroll and Harford counties.

Enforcement began immediately, with a Govans man becoming the first - and so far only - Baltimorean convicted of violating the rules. He was fined $20 for washing his car.

City public works officials had first said that violators would get $100 tickets, but city lawyers conferred this week with the state's attorney's office and concluded that watering ban violations fall under an article in the city code that carries fines of no less than $5, or more than $20.

To get the $100 fine, George L. Winfield, director of public works, must ask the City Council to amend the code. And that could take weeks, according to a department spokesman.

The Baltimore service area had previously been excluded from mandatory restrictions because the Department of Public Works was drawing water from the Susquehanna River, keeping its reservoir levels high. But the river has dropped, as have reservoirs, state officials said.

Because of dry conditions, the state drought emergency area is expected to extend to Kent, Queen Anne's, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties. Those counties would be subject to the same mandatory restrictions as the Baltimore area.

Data on the state Department of the Environment's Web site show stream flow, rainfall and ground water on the Eastern Shore at emergency levels.

Farmers on the Shore could still use water to irrigate crops. If the governor allows, they also could harvest fields of oats, barley and other grains planted under the state's cover-crop program to reduce erosion and runoff. The harvest would help recoup losses and feed livestock.

"That happened in 1999 as part of the drought assistance program, and it's something that is under discussion again," said Don Vandrey, a spokesman with the state Department of Agriculture.

Western Maryland is experiencing normal water levels, and Southern Maryland, including most of the Washington suburbs and most of Anne Arundel County, is under a drought watch, the least-restrictive category. The new restrictions are not expected to apply to these areas.

Sun staff writer Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article.

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