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Forecasted rain to help water supply

April 29, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

There may be silver linings in the clouds expected to hover over the area this week.

If the clouds drop rain, it might help the area's water supply get healthy again, which is what many people hope.

Farmers are especially concerned about the spring crops.

"The topsoil moisture is in great shape for planting," Washington County Agriculture Extension Agent Don Schwartz said. "The concern from an agronomic point of view is we do not have a good reserve in the second or third foot of soil."

A drought emergency remains in effect in Frederick County, while Washington County is under a drought warning.

A drought emergency is the most serious of three categories, followed by a drought warning, then a drought watch.

March was a good month for rain. Hagerstown weather watcher Greg Keefer reported at his Web site that 4.31 inches of precipitation fell. It was the first above-average month for precipitation since last June.

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The annual average for precipitation in Hagerstown is 37.96 inches. Last year, in the third driest year on record, 26.54 inches fell, Keefer's Web site reports.

So far, 8.53 inches of precipitation has fallen this year.

The National Weather Service's latest drought report says that the March rain wasn't a long-range fix.

"Short-term rainfall over March and April has improved soil moisture and aided farmers," the report says, "but above-normal rainfall over many months will replenish groundwater and streamflow and fill reservoirs."

A National Weather Service rainfall chart shows that Frederick County is 12.6 inches below normal rainfall for the last 365 days. Washington County is 13.8 inches below normal.

It is expected to be partly cloudy in Washington County today through Thursday, said meteorologist Melody Paschetag with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. There is a chance of showers today, Wednesday and Thursday.

Washington County officials are asking residents to save water where they can. There are no mandatory restrictions, except in the Mount Aetna area.

In Frederick County, the governor's emergency declaration means residents can't water lawns, use sprinklers, wash paved surfaces, operate ornamental fountains and waterfalls or wash automobiles. There are some exceptions, such as for commercial car washes with a water conservation plan.

On April 5, Gov. Parris Glendening declared the drought emergency for parts of seven counties. The goal is to cut water use by 10 percent.

Since the drought emergency began, water use in Frederick County has dropped 2 to 3 percent, said Fred Eisenhart, the county's director of public works.

"We need to see more," he said.

So far, the county has issued 30 citations to violators. Eisenhart said there have been no second violations, which could lead to the customer's water being turned off.

The county plans to re-evaluate the restrictions at the beginning of May to see if they need to be tightened, Eisenhart said.

The town of Thurmont set up its own water use prohibitions in February.

About 15 warnings have been given out to users, said Gary Dingle, superintendent of the water treatment plant.

No one has been charged with a second offense, which could carry a $50 fine, Dingle said.

In the last five weeks, the water supply in the town's four wells has gone up a little but is still low, he said.

The town reads water meters and bills customers quarterly, so it hasn't had a chance to see if restrictions are working. If the water supply drops again, the town may spot-check meters.

The town has four wells and is trying to get two more running, Dingle said.

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