Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly reported that gardeners watering their plants at Rockville's Woottons Mill Park were subject to mandatory water restrictions at the park. They were not. The park, like most of Rockville, gets its water from the city, which had not restricted use. The limits were in place for customers of the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission, which includes Montgomery County.
Some residents object to water limits in Montgomery, Prince George's counties

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010; A08

Free-flowing clean water is one of the lesser expectations of Washington area suburban living, so it came as an uncomfortable surprise to Terry Walsh that the hose-down he was giving his tomatoes, peppers and chard late Thursday in Rockville could land him a $500 fine.

"Oh [expletive]!" Walsh said. "Yeah, that makes the tomatoes expensive."

So it went as official word of mandatory water restrictions shot through the airwaves and over the Web, but it didn't always reach the target audience in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Psychotherapist Jeanine Lamb turned on a sprinkler in the fading afternoon sun to drench her 20-by-25-foot gazpacho garden, one of 178 community plots at Woottons Mill Park. She said she had been thankful for a day away from TV, radio and the Internet, and she had heard nothing about the limits, which call for no outside watering and shorter showers.

Lamb immediately went for the spigot down the fence from the basil, Roma tomatoes and crookneck squash she and her 4-year-old daughter planted in the spring. "Oh no, let me go turn it off before we talk," she said.

Walsh said he had heard something about water limits in a teaser to a radio spot, but he didn't hear the details. He'll comply with the rules, he said. With Thursday's dousing, it should be fine for his park garden plot to miss its every-other-day watering regimen. Walsh has a low-flow toilet and washing machine at home in Kensington, and he said he plans to cut usage there, too.

"You don't miss your water until the well runs dry," Walsh said. "You can probably write a blues song out of that."

Not everyone submitted to the will of the water authorities. Officials warned that the limits, which they hope will last four days, are necessary to make sure supplies are sufficient and accessible for any major fire emergencies in the area.

"Four days? I'll probably water well now, and slack off . . . and abide by the regulations" later, said a Rockville area resident who works as a landscaper. He declined to give his name, then went back to watering his melons and zucchini.

For those who live downstream from the suspect 96-inch water main, there was appreciation for officials' actions and their neighbors' willingness to accept some inconvenience.

"In this country, it's always like some people have issues if they do something, and if they didn't do it, some people would have issues," said James Lajko, an engineer who's originally from Hungary and lives three doors down from the stretch of pipe that spurred concerns. "I think, what you can fix today, fix it."

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