As drought lifts, Carroll County schools ease emergency restrictions on water

January 06, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Four months after one school twice ran out of water and another's well began kicking up mud and gravel, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker has relaxed emergency water restrictions that have cut the Carroll County school system's water use by about 12 percent.

"I think the drought's over," Ecker said in an interview last week. "The reservoirs are filling up. Other areas have lifted their water restrictions, and I think we should lift ours, too."

The water problems were so worrisome - toilets at Winfield Elementary in southwest Carroll County stopped flushing and faucets slowed to a trickle within the first two days of school in August - that school officials brought in paper products for the cafeteria, gave students sanitary wipes for hand-washing and replaced drinking fountains with the plastic orange beverage coolers commonly found on athletic fields.

Administrators also began planning for possible well failures at other schools and discussed the last-resort option of closing a school without water and having students from two schools share one building in half-day shifts.

But with last year's rain shortage all but erased by a rainy fall and soggy early winter, school officials decided it was time to ease restrictions in county classrooms.

Principals at the county's 39 schools began eliminating their water constraints when students returned last week from winter break, taking down signs that encouraged students to take quick sips at the drinking fountain and allowing school cleaning crews to again take up the mops they had traded for vacuum cleaners.

By Jan. 21, when cafeteria workers systemwide are expected to use all the paper plates and plastic utensils they ordered, students again will be served lunch on plastic trays with plates, cups and silverware that must be washed.

"We usually buy two weeks in advance and so we want to run those supplies out," said Stephen Guthrie, the school district's assistant superintendent of administration. "If we didn't use those products we have in inventory, they'd just sit there and they'll never get used and that will be money wasted."

He estimated that using paper products in the cafeteria has cost the school system an extra $5,000 to $6,000 a month, while cutting the district's water use by about 12 percent to 13 percent.

Ecker had directed schools in August to eliminate outdoor water use, including watering athletic fields and cleaning sidewalks, loading docks and vehicles. He asked each principal to develop a plan to reduce water use by an additional 10 percent.

Schools will be prohibited from watering grass, using sprinklers, washing paved surfaces and using water for ornamental fountains until the governor lifts restrictions against those practices.

Problems began in August less than five hours into the new school year at Winfield Elementary, where one of the school's two wells was capped a year earlier after elevated levels of arsenic were found in the water. With a new well dug but not certified by the state and with area ground water levels at or near record lows, the school's water system could not keep up once classes began.

On the other side of the county, at Sandymount Elementary in Finksburg, a building supervisor handling a routine replacement of the well's water filters on the second day of school noticed sediment collecting - an early but serious indicator that the school's well was close to running dry.

In an attempt to conserve as much water as possible, faculty members at schools posted signs in bathrooms encouraging children to lather their hands before turning on faucets.

They set automatic turn-off valves on bathroom sink taps to the shortest possible setting, replaced toilet valves so commodes wouldn't run as long after flushing and checked every faucet and water pipe for possible leaks.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.