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Pennsylvanians must join water-conservation effort

July 23, 1999

Citing what he said were the driest conditions since 1964, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge this week declared a drought emergency in 55 of the state's counties. Ridge's order comes with mandatory restrictions on water use, which should keep a bad situation from getting worse.

Under Ridge's order, residents of affected counties - including Franklin and Fulton - may not: Wash their cars with hoses, top off swimming pools, operate fountains or artificial waterfalls, wash down driveways or sidewalks, water golf course fairways, water gardens with sprinklers or serve water in restaurants, unless the customer requests it.

There are some exceptions, but generally those who violate the ban will be subject to $200 fines for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.

For most residents, the restrictions will be more of an inconvenience than anything else; watching the lawn turn brown or riding around in a dirty car aren't big sacrifices. But they'll be more than worth it if they allow some extra water to go to the state's farmers, who are watching as pastures turn brown, forcing them to begin using the hay and silage they'd hoped would carry their herds through the winter.

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As we've noted many times previously, the plight of the farmer is everyone's problem. When farmers go under, often their only option is development, which increases every taxpayer's costs.

In truth, most people use far more water than necessary. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the average citizen uses 100 to 150 gallons of water per day, and that's before washing the dishes or laundry.

The Monitor's environmental columnist suggests that more water could be saved by fixing dripping faucets, which can waste up to 15 gallons of water per day, and by using water from dish washing to irrigate plants.

Whatever conservation method you feel comfortable with, remember that most people use more water than necessary because this resource is usually cheap and abundant. How temporary these restrictions are will depend in large part on how well citizens cooperate with them.

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