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River low, farms wilt in heat

July 08, 1999

Wheat farmerBy SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

photo: YVETTE MAY / staff photographer




Municipal water suppliers in Washington County reported no supply problems Thursday although the Potomac River is low and a statewide drought warning has been issued for Maryland.

Meanwhile, the temperature in Hagerstown hit 94 degrees Thursday, marking the sixth day in a row in which temperatures rose above 90.

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The forecast doesn't provide much relief until Sunday, when the National Weather Service is predicting partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 80 degrees.

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Meanwhile, it's expected to get more humid, with highs in the low 90s today and 90 again Saturday, according to the weather service.

There's a 30 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms Saturday.

Area farmers continue to fret about the dry weather and some are not planting new crops this year, said Don Schwartz, a Washington County agricultural extension agent.

At least two-thirds of Washington County's farmers are facing at least moderate problems due to the drought, Schwartz said.

In checks of crops at local farms, Schwartz has found that about one-third of farmers are not having problems, but found others are experiencing crop damage, he said.

Corn should be about 6 feet to 8 feet tall now, but some corn barely tops 4 feet and is discolored, Schwartz said.

If the weather doesn't improve, some corn won't even be fit for use as feed, he said.

"It is all up to the weather now," said Steve Beckley who owns farms across Washington County. "Mother Nature is in charge of all of it now."

Beckley's crops of corn and soybeans did not have the growth they usually do, he said.

"They are not devastated but every hot day they get worse," he said.

The problems Beckley is having comes from the heat, not the water supply, he said.

Maryland's Department of the Environment on Wednesday issued a statewide drought warning, but none of the area municipal water suppliers reached Thursday had placed any restrictions on customers.

The Washington County Water and Sewer Department's water supply is fine, said Paul Bishop, operations coordinator.

The county reserves the right to place mandatory restrictions on customers if it should become necessary in the future, he said.

The county supplies water to Highfield/Cascade, Sharpsburg, Mount Aetna, Sandy Hook and Elk Ridge, he said.

The city of Hagerstown gets its water from the Potomac River.

Hydrologists who measured the Potomac Thursday said that it is extremely low.

The lowest levels ever measured on the Potomac River were in 1966 and the decreasing flow rate this year appears to be paralleling that of 1966, a U.S. Geological Survey spokesman said.

Average daily flow in the Potomac in June 1999 was only about 24 percent of the flow in June 1998 while withdrawals for water supply were 25 percent higher this year than last year, the Geological Survey said.

Flow into the Chesapeake Bay from its three main tributaries - the Potomac, Susquehanna and James rivers - dropped to record low volumes for the month of June, hydrologists say. Freshwater flow into the Bay was less than 74 percent of the previously recorded low set in 1964, the spokesman said.

Although the river is low, Hagerstown's water supply is in good condition, said Water Department Manager Gene V. Wazl. However, "quality-wise it is not in the best shape," he said.

The city serves 23,000 customers, or about 75,000 people, he said. In addition to city residents, the department supplies water to Funkstown, Williamsport and Smithsburg residents.

The city can use the Edgemont Reservoir near Smithsburg for back-up if needed, he said.

Clear Spring residents are using water but not wasting it, said Clear Spring Water Commissioner Bill Albowicz. The town's reservoir is 100 percent full, he said.

"Everything is fine here in Clear Spring," he said.

Hancock Town Manager Louis O. Close and Boonsboro Town Administrator Jake "Eldon" Jones reported similar situations.

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