Water-use restrictions for Pr. George's, Montgomery might be extended

Crews in Potomac begin inserting a replacement pipe in July.
Crews in Potomac begin inserting a replacement pipe in July. (Marvin Joseph/the Washington Post)
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By Rick Rojas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 4, 2010

Even as crews worked to fix a large water main, authorities on Saturday warned that restrictions on outside water use could continue beyond the July Fourth holiday for about 1.8 million people in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Consumption levels continue to be far higher than expected, and police with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission were out warning people not to disobey the mandate. Workers were able to remove the damaged 96-inch pipe near Tuckerman Lane and Gainsborough Road in Potomac and began inserting the replacement Saturday afternoon.

Lyn Riggins, a spokeswoman for WSSC, said the repair process is "right on schedule." The new pipe will not be fully in place until Monday, the agency said. Even then, it could be days before the pipe is completely operational.

"It takes some time to refill" the pipe, she said. "I don't want anyone to think, 'The line is replaced on Monday, so I can wake up Monday and return to using water normally.' "

Officers patrolled both counties looking for customers violating the restrictions. The department has been issuing written warnings to first-time violators but will issue a $500 ticket if authorities have to return to an address a second time. By Saturday, officers had given more than 150 written warnings and issued one ticket, according to WSSC police.

Consumption on Saturday had decreased by 8.5 percent. It's better than the 5 percent decrease on Friday but far below the target of 30 percent, Riggins said.

In summer, the average daily water consumption for the area is between 200 million and 220 million gallons.

"Customers are being wonderful," she said, noting the slight decrease. "But we need more."

Consumption needs to remain low to maintain water pressure for firefighters, Riggins said. Fire departments might not have enough pressure in the system to extinguish a fire. So far, that has not been a problem, officials said.

Firefighters in Montgomery had enough water strength to put out an apartment fire Friday night in Kensington, said Capt. Oscar Garcia, a department spokesman.

Mark E. Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George's fire and EMS department, said there should not be concerns with water capacity unless there are two or more concurrent incidents or a major fire.

Inspector George D. Hubbard, a six-year veteran of the WSSC police department, has been roving Montgomery and Prince George's responding to complaints of water being wasted.

Most are coming from neighbors, he said. And the bulk of the reports have been about automatic sprinklers at homes and businesses and about people washing their cars. "So far, everyone has been cooperative," said Hubbard, who has not given any tickets. "It's still a lot of people claiming ignorance to the restrictions."

The restrictions have been in place since Thursday, when officials had to shut down the massive water main near a residential area off Interstate 270 in Montgomery. An internal warning system had alerted them to a possible problem in that area of the six-mile-long pipe.

Residents are growing impatient, but authorities said they have to ensure that the pipe is fixed before resuming regular service.

"We can't rush into lifting the restrictions," Riggins said. "We have to make sure everything is where it needs to be before we can get things running again."

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