After water main emergency in Potomac, WSSC urges greater conservation

Crews are working around-the-clock near Tuckerman Lane and Gainsborough Road in Potomac.
Crews are working around-the-clock near Tuckerman Lane and Gainsborough Road in Potomac. (Marvin Joseph/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Laris and Rick Rojas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 3, 2010

The plea to about 1.8 million people in Montgomery and Prince George's counties to conserve water has fallen short of expectations.

Customers of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission were told to take shorter showers and stop watering lawns, topping off pools and washing cars while the agency works to replace a section of damaged 96-inch pipe in Potomac. In response, daily usage dropped by about 25 million gallons, about a third of the goal, commission spokeswoman Lyn Riggins said.

"We appreciate everyone's conservation, but it's not nearly enough at this point," Riggins said.

In an alert, officials in Montgomery said that "residents continue to use more water during daylight hours than the system is producing."

The commission fills reserve tanks overnight to help manage supplies, and commission officials said there was no immediate threat. "We're not in any sort of dangerous situation right now of running out," Riggins said.

But for the WSSC to maintain supplies and water pressure -- crucial for firefighters to douse blazes -- residents have to help, Riggins added.

Water officials said they were barraged by desperate calls.

" 'I run a nursery, what about me?' 'I just put in juniper trees for my condo, and they are brand new. If I don't water them, they are going do die.' 'Sod was just laid in my yard!' " commission spokesman Jim Neustadt said, giving examples.

One popular misconception, Neustadt said, is that some businesses are exempt. They're not, he said. There are "understandably very concerned people. But the bottom line is we need every drop we can get," he said.

Although a handful of residents reported losing water to their homes in recent days, officials said there was no connection to the restrictions. A small, relatively routine water main break can result in the water being cut off during repairs, officials said.

The commission also struggled Friday to drain between 500,000 and 1 million gallons of water from a section of the Potomac pipe near a four-foot crack. Nearby valves would not shut tightly enough, and water continued to pour into the section Friday.

Workers sent some of water down sewer lines, and they de-chlorinated and dumped some more. Montgomery park officials were asked to truck some of it away to water fields. Officials said they plan to make the repairs within four days.

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