Watering can begin again after ban in Westminster lifted

Wet winter, Feb. snow prompted council action

Raw Reservoir is full

March 11, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai and Mary Gail Hare | Athima Chansanchai and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Westminster's Common Council voted last night to lift drought restrictions for city residents after last month's plentiful snowfall capped a wet winter that replenished Westminster's water supply.

City residents finally will be able to wash the salt off their cars and hose down their driveways or the exterior of their homes. The Raw Reservoir, the city's main source of water, is at capacity - 125 million gallons and a water depth of 25 feet.

"I think if someone would have prayed last summer and asked for everything, this was more than they could have expected in terms of snow and what it's done for the aquifers to replenish water levels," said Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works. "In 1999, two hurricanes got us through that mess, but this is even better, with a lot less damage."

The city has created a plan that includes a color-coded system that defines drought conditions and the city's response, which would range from minimal conservation to outright bans.

Under the system, proposed last summer, green would mean normal conditions, with the reservoir's levels at 90 percent or higher. The city recommends water conservation, such as reducing outdoor water use and turning off water when brushing teeth. Also during this stage, the city encourages residents to check for leaky faucets and toilets.

The city is in the green stage.

Yellow means dry conditions caused by declining rainfall. Voluntary restrictions would be in effect when the reservoir falls below 21 feet. Beyard said that 75 percent to 80 percent of the reservoir's capacity is a good threshold. 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 indicates 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 be 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 fall under the jurisdiction of the city's code enforcement and police departments. Fines are $200 for initial violations and $400 for repeat offenses.

Although Westminster is lifting its restrictions, county officials said last week that Carroll residents who rely on water from Liberty Reservoir should not expect a ban on outdoor water use to be rescinded soon.

Although Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lifted the 10-month-old drought emergency last month for most of Central Maryland, Baltimore and suburbs supplied by the city's reservoirs remain under the ban.

Carroll officials said they are not ready to declare the drought emergency over, and said a local ban on water use might remain in place after the state lifts the restrictions.

"It is better to be conservative now and make sure we are on firm ground," said James Slater, Carroll's bureau chief of environment and resource protection.

The rainy fall and snowy winter have helped fill city-owned Liberty Reservoir to 69 percent of its capacity. The 45-billion-gallon lake along the Carroll and Baltimore county line supplies water to about 30,000 customers in South Carroll.

The county will re-evaluate the restrictions at the end of this month and again next month.

"Until then, get down the road to the carwash," said Douglas Myers, county public works director.

The fall and winter have replenished the county's 30 monitor wells, which are designed to gauge groundwater levels that feed wells throughout the county. Most of the monitor wells are at or above normal levels, even the ones on higher ground, said Tom Devilbiss, Carroll's geohydrologist.

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