The chairman of Maryland's water advisory committee says people often don't understand why he jokes about praying for drought.
They don't see that M. Gorman "Reds" Wolman, a geography professor at the John Hopkins University, is just grasping for a way to warn them that drinking water is an increasingly unreliable resource even in this coastal playground.
FOR THE RECORD - An editorial yesterday misspelled the name of M. Gordon "Reds" Wolman, and of the Johns Hopkins University, where he is a professor.
The Sun regrets the errors.
Eighteen months after Mr. Wolman's committee recommended sweeping changes in the management of water resources and tougher enforcement of existing protections, land developers are still driving the process, charming or bullying county and municipal officials into approving projects with little or no thought to what their impact on the water supply might be. As if building a wider pipe or digging a deeper well were all there is to it.
The latest irresponsible example came last week when the Mount Airy Town Council agreed to add 275 homes to that tiny community already under state development curbs because of wells running dry. Town leaders seek to circumvent the state ban by having the developer tap into a none-too-clean section of the Patapsco River.
State regulators should block this shortsighted plan - if a referendum of outraged local residents doesn't crush it first.
But as The Sun's Timothy B. Wheeler reported recently, this water problem runs far deeper than Mount Airy, and its often-parched neighbors in Western Maryland's Piedmont. Even in years when rainfall is plentiful, the drain from development on overtaxed aquifers is beginning to show in other parts of the state as well, notably in Southern Maryland, where groundwater levels are dropping by an average of 1 to 2 feet a year.
Developers have begun to cast their eyes on state parks, hoping to tap into streams and aquifers that are doing important work supporting the environment of those protected oases. Meanwhile, property owners digging wells for personal use don't require any approvals whatsoever.
What's needed is a regional or even statewide approach that puts water resources - whether surface streams or underground - at the start of the land planning process.
Toward that end, state and federal officials have joined in a lengthy study of freshwater resources in the eastern half of Maryland, known geologically as the coastal plain, to better guide regulatory decisions in a region where the most accessible source of fresh water is nearly tapped out.
The priority assigned to that study has to be questioned, though, when stream gauges measuring water levels are removed from time to time because funding in the patchwork of local, regional, state and federal agencies that support them runs short.
No wonder Professor Wolman wants Marylanders to learn what it's like to go without water.
If they don't take the prospect seriously now, drought could become a way of life.