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Water ok despite lack of rain

June 21, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

Hagerstown water customers may notice their tap water tastes a little different, but other than that several Tri-State area water plants aren't experiencing many problems from the scarcity of rainfall.

Only 2.52 inches of rain have fallen in the Hagerstown area during June, according to local weather observer Greg Keefer.

Hagerstown's water supply is the Potomac River, where the water level was 1.5 feet on Monday. Flood stage is 23 feet.

"The water is not the best quality during this time," said Gene Walzl, Hagerstown Water Department manager.

When the water level is that low the river water becomes stagnant and algae forms, leading to an organic smell or taste in the treated tap water, Walzl said.

The city's reservoirs are full, but little stream water is coming into the Edgemont reservoir near Smithsburg, so that water is being used conservatively, Walzl said.

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While no mandatory conservation efforts have been announced, Walzl said water officials are trying to get the word out for their 75,000 water customers to use water wisely.

A water conservation effort for Boonsboro and Keedysville was lifted Friday after the water supply returned to normal. The mayors of the two towns credited residents who cooperated by not watering lawns or washing cars since June 9.

Residents in those towns are asked to continue using water wisely because of the drought.

The Berkeley County (W.Va.) Public Service District has been affected by the lack of rainfall, but the situation is not critical, said General Manager Dan Campbell.

"The rain last week helped some. People stopped watering because they got some rain," Campbell said. The district uses LeFevre Spring and has three lakes or limestone quarries.

Campbell said there would have to be another month of no rain before mandatory conservation efforts are announced.

The spring that supplies water to the Hedgesville (W.Va.) Public Service District is running lower than normal this time of year, but is still holding up, said General Manager Taylor Whittington.

Water officials in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Chambersburg, Pa., said they were experiencing no problems.

The Albert Powell Hatchery near Hagerstown is doing OK, said Susan O'Brien, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"For the most part fisheries tolerate a very wide range of salinity," said O'Brien. The salinity level is high now because of the low water level.

The plants in the stream beds thrive and do better during droughts because there is less runoff from the land, making the water clearer with less turbidity, O'Brien said. That allows light in, helping plants grow.

Two dangers the drought does pose are fire and flash flooding, O'Brien said.

When the earth is dry and hard from a drought, rainwater runs off faster and can cause flash floods, O'Brien said.

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