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Winter having impact on drought in county

February 24, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Even if Washington County continues to get more snow and rain this winter, it will be at least six to nine months before if it is known if the drought is over, Washington County Drought Coordinator Don Schwartz said Friday.

Above-average precipitation this winter from storms such as the one on Feb. 15 and 16 definitely is helping bring the drought conditions toward an end in the area, said Schwartz and Laurie G. Bucher, director of environmental health for the Washington County Health Department.

But the region needs about six to nine months of above-average precipitation to get over the drought, which began in 1998, Bucher said.

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While shallow county wells are currently running at levels they have not been at since 1998, deep wells still need time to recharge, Schwartz said.

And if the region has less precipitation than usual this spring and summer, drought problems could persist, he said.

"Just because you step off the concrete and the grass is soft doesn't mean a four-year drought is at an end," Schwartz said.

But Schwartz and Bucher said some indicators are looking good.

Three monitoring wells in Washington County are currently at normal levels or above for the first time in almost three years, Bucher said.

The rate at which property owners are applying for replacement wells also has dropped significantly, she said.

The state will look in the spring at the drought indicators, which include the amount of precipitation, as well as the level of stream flows, groundwater and reservoir storage, Bucher said.

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced Thursday he is lifting the drought emergency restrictions imposed by former Gov. Parris Glendening, except for customers served by the Baltimore municipal water supply system.

Later that day, Frederick (Md.) Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty lifted mandatory water restrictions in the city of Frederick.

In early January, Washington County lifted a mandatory water restriction order for 120 homes in the Mount Aetna area, Water and Sewer Director Greg Murray said.

Later this winter, the county probably will rescind its request for citizens on the county water system to voluntarily conserve water, Murray said.

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