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Residents are asked to reduce water use

March 13, 2002|BY SCOTT BUTKI

With Washington County under a drought warning, the Board of Commissioners Tuesday asked residents to voluntarily conserve water.

Also Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening said he will declare a drought emergency in central Maryland, which includes Frederick County, within the next week.

Glendening warned that the rest of the state might soon be included in that emergency designation.

"We call upon Marylanders everywhere to begin voluntary water conservation across the state. We really are in all this together," Glendening said.

The Washington County Commissioners' call for voluntary water conservation across the county was one of four actions they took after Don Schwartz, who is serving as the county's drought coordinator for the Maryland Department of the Environment, discussed the severity of the drought.

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The commissioners also:

- Voted to send a letter to Glendening asking that Washington County be included in any planned water restrictions.

- Voted to create a task force to monitor water supplies, determine strategies to deal with water shortfalls, determine the need for mandatory water restrictions and address other related issues.

- Voted to send a letter to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources asking that open burning be banned in Washington County.

Months with little precipitation have dramatically hurt the groundwater supply throughout Washington County, said Schwartz, a Washington County Agricultural Extension agent. Some wells more than 200 feet deep have gone dry, he said.

"This is not going to be something that is going to fix itself quick," he said.

It will take up to two years of the normal level of rainfall to return the groundwater to normal levels, Schwartz said.

In 2001, the Washington County Health Department issued 30 permits for wells to be replaced, he said. In comparison, in the first two months of this year, 44 permits have been issued for replacement wells, he said.

The central part of the state has been hardest hit by the drought. In addition to Frederick, counties included in the emergency designation include Cecil, Carroll, Harford and Howard. Baltimore County and City, as well as portions of northwest Montgomery County, also are included.

The drought emergency designation will mean some mandatory restrictions on water use. Glendening said he would announce those measures after consulting with the Water Conservation Advisory Committee, which was set up following the 1999 summer drought.

Glendening and his environmental staff urged people to make water conservation a permanent part of their daily lives.

The governor urged residents across the state to limit water use voluntarily, and asked the committee to develop a long-term strategy for Maryland residents, businesses and government offices to make water conservation a permanent part of life.

The current drought is more than an isolated one- or two-month issue, and "may well be part of a global climate change," Glendening said.

"The days when Maryland can take their water supply for granted are in the past," state Environmental Secretary Jane T. Nishida said.

Much of the East Coast is suffering through an extraordinarily dry winter - a time when water reserves ordinarily are recharging for the rest of the year.

Precipitation has been below normal for six months and last month was the driest February ever. The U.S. Geological Survey reported last week that water levels hit record monthly lows at the end of February in 21 of the 30 streams checked in a survey of Maryland and Delaware.

In Washington County, about 120 Mount Aetna water users remain under mandatory water conservation notices.

In early February, the Washington County Water and Sewer Department issued voluntary water conservation notices to about 1,400 users in Highfield, Elk Ridge, Clear Spring, Sandy Hook and Sharpsburg. Tuesday's action by the commissioners expands that request to the rest of the county.

The county asks that residents not wash cars, fill swimming pools, wash house siding, sidewalks or driveways, or water outside plants, including lawns. Washing full loads of clothes and dishes, taking shorter showers, repairing leaks and turning off water when brushing teeth are ways water can be conserved inside the home.

The Maryland Department of the Environment last week upgraded Washington County's drought status from a drought watch to the more serious level of a drought warning.

Staff writer Laura Ernde and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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