Withered D.C. Region Cries for Water, Cool Water

Jean Paul Dionou waters vegetables at the Fort Stevens Community Garden in the District. A severe drought has killed trees and plants, hurt sales at nurseries and dried up wells.
Jean Paul Dionou waters vegetables at the Fort Stevens Community Garden in the District. A severe drought has killed trees and plants, hurt sales at nurseries and dried up wells. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Darragh Johnson and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On Maryland's Eastern Shore, wells have gone dry and children are bathing from trash cans.

In Alexandria, hundreds of trees have died. In Southern Maryland, nurseries are watching sales wither almost as fast as homeowner's gardens.

And at the National Arboretum, sprinkler systems are running 24 hours a day.

Since the spring, rain has fallen at half its usual levels. The entire Washington region, from Loudoun County to the Chesapeake Bay, is suffering a severe drought. And no immediate relief is in sight.

At Reagan National Airport, 4.19 inches of rain have fallen since June 1. Normal for that period: 8.22 inches.

"The weather has been in a rut," said Douglas Le Comte, a drought specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center. "We started a dry trend in mid-April and never really caught up."

He blames poetic-sounding but desiccating westerly winds, which have been blowing into the region far more than usual. Ask about why so many westerlies, and he says: "That's just the way Mother Nature is. She gets comfortable in a certain circulation pattern."

Seems even Mother Nature can get mired in the daily grind.

But with summer rainstorms evaporating after a few drops from the sky, the talk in many corners of the area has centered on a single subject: water.

That's especially true on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where more than 100 residents have watched their wells dry up -- in part because the state's largest prison has used almost 10 times its allotted amount of the area's supply, officials said.

The rural communities of Allen and Eden have been hit particularly hard, with some people filling trash cans with water from friends' wells to bathe their children. Pam Hutchinson's well went dry a few weeks ago, and she has since dug one capable of drawing water from deeper underground -- at a cost of more than $5,000 and a torn-up yard.

"This is a disaster," Hutchinson said.


CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company