Md. Governor Imposes Broad Water Limits |
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 5, 1999; Page A1
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday imposed broad water restrictions that will shut off lawn sprinklers and require restaurant patrons who want drinking water to request it, measures that Virginia water officials immediately criticized as unnecessary in the Washington suburbs despite the ongoing drought.
The freedom to use water in the Washington area now depends on where you are. In Maryland, the use of hoses to wash cars or fill swimming pools will bring sanctions of up to $1,000, while in the District and most of Virginia, there are no restrictions.
At a midafternoon news conference, Glendening (D) called the water shortage a "crisis," becoming the first governor to impose statewide restrictions to cope with the drought gripping the mid-Atlantic region. He vowed to protect the state's water supply by asking residents throughout Maryland to share the pain.
"The Potomac is at a historic low," the governor said. Scientists "are telling us they're seeing rocks in the Potomac they've never seen before. Now's the time to conserve the water."
But the region's other jurisdictions that also draw water from the Potomac River have come to a different conclusion.
In the District, Mayor Anthony A. Williams said the city's water supply is sufficient to avoid restrictions, although he did call for voluntary conservation.
Across the river, Northern Virginia water officials disputed the crisis and said that two taxpayer-financed Potomac River reservoirs built in the early 1980s for the purpose of avoiding water restrictions during severe droughts are working exactly as intended.
"It's very difficult to understand why anyone who is elected to serve the interests of a group of people would go out of their way to make them miserable," said Burton Rubin, a Fairfax County water commissioner. Water restrictions in the Washington area "are not necessary and they don't help anybody."
Jennings Randolph Lake, a reservoir on the Potomac in far western Maryland, holds 13.36 billion gallons of water and is about 84 percent full, officials said. Little Seneca Lake in Montgomery County, which has 4 billion gallons, is more than 99 percent full. The two facilities were built by the area's water authorities for $83 million after the region suffered through serious droughts and mandatory water restrictions in the late 1970s.
With those reservoirs acting as a backup, Rubin and other water officials said, the Potomac River can supply Washington and its suburbs for months, even if the region doesn't get another drop of rain between now and next spring.
Water officials said restrictions that may help in Baltimore and other areas of Maryland make little sense in the Potomac River watershed, because there is no way to get water saved in this region to other areas and other watersheds that need it.
"None of the water utilities that depend on the Potomac are asking for water restrictions," said James A. Warfield Jr., the executive officer of the Fairfax County Water Authority.
In Prince William County, which gets much of its water from the Potomac and Occoquan rivers via the Fairfax County Water Authority, officials said they see no need for sweeping restrictions at any time in the near future.
"We're not minimizing drought concerns, but if there's adequate flow, why cry wolf?" said John Sloper, general manager of the Prince William County Service Authority.
"We do have a drought and it's a serious drought, but we're certainly not in a crisis situation. When it comes to the Washington Metropolitan Region, it really operates as one large system," said Karl Berger, senior environmental planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "In terms of the amount of water available to the region, it's the same for all."
Glendening rejected the criticism of his decision, saying he was taking prudent steps to avoid a more serious crisis if the drought continues throughout the winter months, when the region usually gets more rain.
He dismissed the notion that water restrictions might be better imposed selectively across the state.
"We ought not to be dividing the state and pitting one region against the other," Glendening said. "The bottom line is my responsibility to the entire state of Maryland. What happens if we get a dry winter? I'd rather conserve now and keep the water in the reserves than roll the dice."
The political value of seeming to take water conservation seriously was not lost on Northern Virginia and District politicians, even as they continued to insist that mandatory restrictions are not necessary.
Williams encouraged D.C. residents to take steps such as washing cars with buckets instead of hoses, refraining from hosing down sidewalks, checking for plumbing leaks, turning off the faucet while brushing their teeth and not prolonging showers by "singing opera arias." He said he would ask city agencies to "follow the guidelines we want our citizens to follow."
In Fairfax County, the Board of Supervisors has voted twice in the last two months to urge residents to use water respectfully, and three supervisors yesterday called on the county's government agencies to conserve water.
"Water is a resource that we should conserve every day," Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D) said yesterday. "In a drought, we should pay particular attention to our water conservation."
Hanley said the county's director of Public Works has been directed to implement water-saving measures by county agencies.
Arlington County Board Chairman Paul F. Ferguson (D) issued a statement yesterday saying that Glendening's actions serve as a reminder to Arlington.
"The obligation to manage our natural resources wisely for the betterment of our community and the region is inherent in our principles of government," he said.
In Loudoun County, which imposed mandatory restrictions last weekend, and Fairfax City, which is urging voluntary cut backs, residents get water from both the Potomac and Goose Creek.
Dale C. Hammes, general manager of the Loudoun Sanitation Authority, said the county opted for restrictions because Goose Creek is small and "more vulnerable" to drought. "The Potomac River basin is so big it captures more wide-spread showers," Hammes said.
A spokesman for Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III said the governor is treating Virginia's water situation on a case-by-case basis. If there is a need for mandatory water restrictions in a particular area, the governor will not hesitate to impose them, said spokesman Mark Miner.
"We're relying on localities to keep us apprised of the situation," Miner said. "We're not going to put the whole state under alert for no reason."
Staff writers D'Vera Cohn and Maria Glod contributed to this report.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company