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Plans for a dry future: Underwood's wise start

September 02, 1999

Even as his counterpart in Maryland has ended most water-use restrictions, West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood is looking ahead to what might happen if the drought doesn't ease by autumn.

Underwood's plans to channel some of a $11 million drought-relief appropriation into forest-fire prevention is not only a wise move, but it also sends the much-needed message that despite some recent rains, the drought's not over yet.

Depending on precisely where you are, experts say the East Coast is still 10 to 12 inches short of normal rainfall. A tropical storm could close that gap quickly, but because the ground is now so hard and dry, the danger is that much of the rainfall would wash off, creating a whole different set of problems.

Underwood isn't counting on some tropical storm to ease the state's misery. He's spent $200,000 to (among other things) train National Guard members to lead forest-fire-fighting teams and to lease a second aerial tanker, a plane which can drop 800 gallons of water at a time right on top of a fire.

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Other purchases include better two-way radios and new firefighting equipment. Underwood says he's ready to commit another $1 million, but says he hopes he doesn't have to. If he's as smart as he seems to be, however, he'll spend more now to save additional water resources in the future.

On August 29, The Washington Post reported that the typical water-supplying utility "loses" much of what's already been treated because of faulty meters and/or pipes that allow water to leak out before it even to gets to the meter.

There are methods to track and plug such leaks, methods which didn't seem cost-effective in a time of abundant water. But now, when experts are asking people to save their shower water for watering gardens, it makes sense to track down what municipal systems, perhaps through no fault of their own, are allowing to trickle away.

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