As persistent dry conditions have led several Carroll County municipalities to enact voluntary water restrictions, Mount Airy could go one step further to temporarily ban the use of outdoor sprinklers as soon as this week, Mayor Frank Johnson said.
Mount Airy officials recently unveiled a tiered system for phasing in possible water restrictions that could last until Sept. 15 and delay new water and sewer connections from being established before that date, Johnson said.
"Usage is inching up as the drought continues," Johnson said. "We're raised to want to have green lawns. ... But we've got to act to protect our water source."
Mount Airy and other Carroll municipalities that depend solely on groundwater are most vulnerable. Westminster issued voluntary outdoor watering restrictions on July 13, but the city's 115 million-gallon Cranberry Reservoir gives it a bit of a cushion, Westminster public works Director Jeff Glass said.
But if water levels in Westminster's reservoir and wells continue to drop, those restrictions could become mandatory, Glass said.
Mount Airy enacted voluntary restrictions in June, when daily water use averaged 830,000 gallons per day -- close to the maximum annual average of 855,000 gallons per day that the state currently permits, town officials said.
And Manchester, which for years has forbidden residents from watering lawns and filling pools with town water, also has voluntary restrictions on all outdoor water use in effect, local authorities said.
The voluntary restrictions come as Westminster and Mount Airy are trying to obtain new water sources to comply with consent orders that both localities recently signed with the Maryland Department of the Environment. Westminster is waiting for the state to sign permits to draw water from the Roop's Mill well, a 135,000-gallon-per-day emergency source that could now be used for new development, Glass said.
As Carroll County nears settling on the purchase of Hyde's Quarry as a water source for Westminster, the city has also made an application to draw water from Little Pipe Creek.
In Mount Airy, the town of 8,500 residents depends upon 10 groundwater wells. Unless a new source is found soon, the state will scale back the town's permitted annual average daily use to about 750,000 gallons, Johnson said.
A sign of the dry conditions is the sandbars that are increasingly exposed as water levels recede in Liberty Reservoir at the border of Carroll and Baltimore counties. Yet the 3 million gallons that Carroll County's system daily draws from the reservoir are a "drop in the bucket" compared with its overall capacity, county public works director J. Michael Evans said.
With two backup wells yielding another 500,000 gallons per day in the South Carroll area, the county's water customers don't currently need to worry about curbing usage, Evans said.
As long-term regional solutions, the county still hopes to gain permission to build reservoirs at Gillis Falls and Union Mills. Those projects could protect the municipal systems during drought times, Evans said. Plus, he said, well water is more prone to contamination because it isn't treated as thoroughly as surface water is.
"Our argument is to give the towns a large body of water, a reliable supply, that's not as vulnerable as wells," Evans said.
Test wells are being drilled for Mount Airy around the proposed Gillis Falls Reservoir site, but no new source has yet materialized, town administrator Monika Weierbach said. Conservation measures are being stressed and the municipal system is being repaired for leaks, she added.
In Westminster, mandatory water restrictions were last enacted during the drought of 2002, city officials said.
But if Cranberry Reservoir's water level reaches 17 feet or less, rainfall is less than five inches a month and the water table in the main city wells continues to drop, outdoor water use could be banned again, Glass said. Currently, the water in Westminster's reservoir is about 22 feet deep, less than its average depth of 25 feet, Glass said.
If Mount Airy moves to outlaw any water uses this week, it would first prohibit built-in and portable "broadcast" sprinklers that rotate and tend to consume the most water, Johnson said.
If dry conditions persist, watering lawns and washing cars would be banned on the weekends, when household use shoots up, he said. All outdoor uses could eventually be prohibited through the Sept. 15 period, he said. Exceptions would be made for those who would use rain barrels and other recycled water on their lawns.
To jumpstart conservation efforts, the town was co-hosting a workshop with the new Citizens for a Green Mount Airy group yesterday. Free rain barrels to collect water for gardens and other water-saving devices were to be distributed to residents.
"Water conservation techniques should be used regardless," Weierbach said. "These are common-sense suggestions."