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Police say water restrictions are confusing

August 06, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Confusion reigned Thursday, one day after water restrictions took effect in Maryland, as businesses and law enforcement officials struggled to figure out what Gov. Parris N. Glendening's executive order means.

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Under the order, for instance, car washes that use less than 80 percent recycled water were supposed to close. But several Washington County car washes were open anyway.

Hagerstown City Police officials met with city officials to discuss enforcement strategies, Washington County Attorney Richard W. Douglas poured over legal documents and the state's drought hotline was flooded with calls.

Even state officials appeared to have difficulty interpreting the nuances of the restrictions.

"One of the problems with emergency orders like this is nobody has a chance to work out all the details, and, of course, the devil is in the details," said Douglas, who is advising the Washington County Sheriff's Department. "It's unlike anything else we've gotten."

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Several Washington County car wash owners said they are waiting for more information before closing their doors.

Larry Litmer, the manager at Three Minute Car Wash on Jonathan Street in Hagerstown, said he and his partner have requested more information from Glendening's office.

Asked if the business could afford to close for a few weeks, Litmer did not hesitate.

"Absolutely not," he said. "That's all we do. It'd shut us down."

Litmer said his 15 workers would lose their jobs.

"Right now, I'm more concerned about them and their well-being," he said.

Tammy Russell, a manager at Dual Highway Car Wash in Hagerstown, said the business switched to nozzles that use less water.

"We have cut back on water, but we haven't shut down," said

Baltimore Street Car Wash in Hagerstown also stayed open on Thursday.

"We're just going to remain open for the time being and cut back on our water," said a manager, who would not give his name.

The manger said the car wash does not use 80 percent recycled water.

"Eighty percent recycling is an impossibility," he said.

Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said businesses that feel they cannot meet the requirements or who have questions, should call the drought hotline.

"The whole idea is to try to get folks to use less of the water supply," he said.

The toll-free number is 1-877-437-6844. The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. But Banks urged patience since the hotline has been receiving 300 to 400 calls an hour.

"I couldn't believe how many calls they were actually logging," he said.

Glendening's executive order calls for violators to receive a warning for a first offense and maximum penalties of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail for subsequent violations. State officials have left enforcement up to local police.

Area police agencies said they already have taken calls from people reporting water-use violations.

"They started last night," said Hagerstown City Police Capt. Robert Hart, the department's acting chief. "It's neighbor on neighbor."

Hart said police so far have given warnings to violators. He met with city officials on Thursday afternoon to set up enforcement procedures.

The city will announce specific enforcement measures at a news conference today at 10 a.m.

The state police said they are taking a common-sense approach to the water ban.

"Right now, we've gotten some phone calls on it and we're making personal contact," said Lt. Bruce Smith, the Hagerstown barracks commander.

Glendening's executive order places a number of restrictions on businesses. Nurseries, for instance, are supposed to cut water use by 10 percent.

John Snavely, who owns Snavely's Garden Corner on Leitersburg Pike, said that would be extremely difficult. He said he turned off 15 decorative water displays Thursday morning.

But that accounts for a tiny percentage of the water his business uses. Most of the water goes toward keeping the plants alive, and Snavely said the company already is as frugal as possible.

"We feel like we're pretty conservative," he said. "I'm thinking about how I can."

And if the state insists on a 10 percent reduction?

"Then we have to pick 10 percent of our plant material and sacrifice them," Snavely said. "I might as well walk them to the Dumpster."

Other businesses that use at least 10,000 gallons of water per day must develop plans to cut water use by 10 percent in case Glendening extends the ban. State officials have encouraged businesses to reduce water use voluntarily.

Hagerstown Water Department officials said fewer than 60 of the system's 1,600 nonresidential customers use that much water.

About two-thirds of those customers are municipalities that buy water from Hagerstown, public housing complexes, the state prison complex and other non-businesses.

The rest rely on water to varying degrees.

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