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  Readers React to Drought, Water Restrictions

Wednesday, August 4, 1999; 11:29 a.m. EDT

We want to hear from you.
How is the drought affecting your life? Tell us your story.
What are you doing to save water? Send us your hints.
Is your car really dirty? Is your garden really dead? We're looking for compelling images to illustrate the drought. Describe an image.

We'll post responses on the site. Please include your full name and phone number so a reporter or photographer can call you.
Following are excerpts from some readers' responses to the ongoing drought and the possibility of water restrictions.

You can save a lot of water simply by turning off the tap when you're not using the water coming out. For example, draw a small sink of water for shaving, rather than running the tap to rinse the razor. Turn the water off while you brush your teeth, then on to rinse your mouth and tooth brush. When sink washing dishes, use one sink for wash water, the other for rinse water, rather than rinsing each dish or pan under running water.

Outdoors, save water by removing fine shredded bark mulch. It retains water and so you have to use a lot more water to reach the soil and plants. If you are able, give the ground around plants a good soaking and then either replace the bark mulch or cover the ground with plastic to prevent evaporation. Lightly tilling soil with a hoe or a garden claw helps plants get air and use soil minerals, this also conserves soil moisture.
-Beth Hayden

Water conservation has been a reality in my family since 1974, and I don't really want to speculate on how much we saved. The rule is, "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down". This rule has perturbed my husband in the past, but I'm sure he will accustom himself. I also advise sponge or bucket baths. As a child I thought they were fun. If you must shower, jump in, get wet, turn off the water, lather, rinse. I'm moving to a place with a well, and I know my horses don't tend to finish their buckets of water, so I plan on first sieving off any detritus (hay stems, grain), and lugging the water into the house for use in flushing, rinsing dishes, and watering the cats. I really think we should have had restrictions as soon as we started tapping the reserves though. Virginia too!
-Dawn Anuszkiewicz
I live in Falls Church and I agree that mandatory water restrictions are needed. And not just in Maryland. All of us in the Metro Area are at risk for water shortages during these drought conditions. I grew up in Florida and the threat of no water was real there, too. People caught watering during mandatory restrictions were given tickets and fines.

Most of the ideas that I read on the subject were very good. However, it is not always true that handwashing dishes saves water. Newer dishwashers are often conserve more water than handwashing. I am also taking shorter showers, turning off the water while I shampoo my hair or while brushing my teeth, and only doing laundry when I can fill the machine.

It is a sad but true fact that most people have no respect for the earth they walk on. My mother always told me "waste not want not." And in the words of (I believe) former NYC Mayor Ed Koch "When it's yellow let it mellow; when it's brown flush it down."
-C. Sandifer
Falls Church, Va.

I searched the last two weeks of articles in the Post re: drought conditions. It appears that water restrictions have been placed on homeowners more so than businesses and industries. What is the percentage break-down of water uses for private citizens, businesses and industries? What percent of water usage is expected to be saved due to conservation measures or restrictions from each of these sectors.

I applaud those who have voluntarily incorporated conservation measures on a daily basis in their lives re: water, wastes, electricity etc. It is a shame that it takes a crisis (no doubt this is viewed as little more than an inconvenience to many) for people to realize the importance and finite nature of our life sustaining natural resources. We have been encouraged in our culture to be wasteful. Our economy to a large degree depends on it. Maybe the current water crisis will help us to look at other potential human health/well-being issues looming in the future so they can be avoided...but I doubt it.
-Karen B. Maute
Danville, Va.

I am always against using the dishwasher. I believe hand-washing dishes is cleaner anyway. I haven't washed my cars for a couple of months.

From reading the other posts, it is a good idea to use the bath tub as a tank to save the shower's water, then use it to flush toilets rather than just watering the plants. Consider each time you flush the toilet, it uses about 4 (5?) gallons of water.

I truly agree that we are all too spoiled, too wasteful.

Also, why aren't water bills raised 10 times during this water conservation time? Some of that money could go into the disaster fund or to help the crops. Otherwise, we will end up pay a lot more in the supermarket.
-L. Chen
Arlington, Va.

In the years of the energy crisis (1972 and into the 80's) the gas and electric utility companies supplied customers with dime- sized thin metal disks with a small hole in the middle to be inserted into shower heads. This painlessly cut down on shower water needs by one-third. Either Pepco or Washington Gaslight may still have these available.

We now live in Israel where wise water use is a continuing problem. Some years ago, on a visit, I brought 100 of these discs to my children who lived on kibbutz. These were inserted in the showerheads unbeknownst to the residents. Nobody noticed the difference! Tremendous saving in water and energy to heat water.
-Sue Golden Lerner
Jerusalem, Israel

Surely the obvious water-conservation ploy is rethinking our fixation on English-style, water- gobbling grass lawns, romantic symbol of wealth and privilege, meaning we didn't need the space to grow cabbages - but in England they didn't need watering.

If we rethought our landscaping to include shrubbery, or drought-resistant ground covers, or Japanese pebbles, we not only wouldn't be draining the reservoirs, we wouldn't be choking the air with lawn-mower fumes or the bay with weed-killers.

Oh, and to the person who wrote he had a private well: I have a private well too, but I don't flatter myself that God has set aside its water for my use alone.
-Barbara Holland

Placing restrictions on the use of water by regulation probzbly will not work nor is it equitable. There is experience with a system that did work in Marin Coounty Califormia in the 70s during a multi year drought. The market system was employed and should be used now.

How would this work? A standard allocation of water per household (based on number of people) would be set and such water sold to the consumer by providers such as Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, at the lowest rates. Rates for consumption above the base would be set at high and increasingly high rates.

If one wishes to use more than the base and is willing to pay for it then so be it. I do not think we would have equity problems with people of low income since the base coudl and should be set to insure that their needs are met.

For the base allotment no restrictions would be set. If a family would chose to water a lawn instead of taking showers so be it. Each household would set its own priorities. People may invest to collect "gray water" and use that for lawn watering and watering plants. Why punish them? Indeed such relieves the pressure on sewage treatment.

In short, use the marke5t system rather than working against it. The market is a powerful force that can and does accomplish wonders that we seem to take for granted and then ignore when a problem arises.
-Dr. Gerald S. Leighton

I support mandatory water use restrictions in times of drought, but restrictions may be difficult to enforce. I think that an effective way to implement water use restrictions is through "drought water rates". Special "drought water rates" should be established and put into effect to severely penalize excessive water use by residential, commercial and industrial customers. Otherwise there will be too many people who just won't care about water restrictions. The money collected from excessive water users should then be used to initiate water conservation measures such as consumer rebates for installing low flow showerheads, faucets and toilets. "Drought water rates" ease enforcement, puts a cost burden only on high water users and can be used to provide long term solutions.
-Nelson Labbé
I agree with the majority of respondents that we should not be wasting water, or any other resource. Washing cars is completely frivolous - I wash my (white) car 2 or 3 times a year, and it looks fine! And if everyone's lawn is brown, why worry? Brown grass is most likely dormant, not dead (people should be educated about this), and will come back when it rains again. I do think restrictions on water use should be mandatory, but I wonder how these will be enforced? Also, I wonder how the word will be spread - some people may not read the newspaper or watch TV news, and those who do not understand english very well may be uninformed, too. Perhaps multi-lingual signs should be posted in neighborhoods, on buses, in the metro, etc.

As for suggestions on mow to reduce waste: my husband and I take short showers using low-flow shower heads, which save a significant amount of water. These devices should be made easily available at many retail outlets - they typically cost about $12 - not too much to pay, even for those of modest means. We also use this toilet flushing rule: "if it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down". We try to get 3-4 uses out of it before it goes, and do not find this a major inconvenience. We have a dish washer, but only run it once or twice a week, when it is as full as possible. We even reuse some dishes and glasses that are not really dirty. I have only been watering a few valuable shrubs and flowers that are obviously wilted, and I always do this in the morning or evening to reduce evaporation from the sun. I plan to begin using some of the other water-saving methods I have read here as well.
-Lara Boeck

We don't mind the restrictions. Since the drought began we have been conserving water by not washing our cars and by not watering the lawn. Our children also take baths less frequently, or we wash hands and faces in lieu of having a bath. My wife and I also take very short showers - 5 minutes for me, 10 for her. We have been buying bottled water for years because we prefer it and we are washing our dishes by hand. It isn't hard to do.

A suggestion I would have for the rest of the metro area would be to conserve all the time. Then when this type of thing happens, its easy.

I find it amazing that, amidst all the talk of drought, large office buildings throughout the District continue to hose down their extensive sidewalks each morning. I can specifically name 1275 Pennsylvania and 555 13th St, NW as two example I walk by each morning on the way to work--I'm sure there are many more.
-Kelly Robinson
It seems the people of this area forgot some things: The gas crunch. 36+ inches of snow. Ecology. I am not a tree hugger, never will be. I am, however, a responsible person who believes we should all use our brain and not let the government have to direct us in all our lives. We look to 'Big Brother' for safety standards for our cars, when really, common sense in our driving could save our lives; we want toys that won't cut or harm our children, but we don't want to bother to sit outside and watch them play. Now we have to have water standards because we have been in a drought situation. My next door neighbor waters his lawn every night; I haven't cut my lawn for two weeks. What's wrong with the picture? I guess the sign I saw in a co-workers' cubicle summed everything up best: "THINK"
-Rick T.
1) no car wahes
2) no watering of lawn or shrubs
3) turn off all water fountains
4) limit use of laundromats
5) limit use of car dealers washing new cars
6) close some of the public toilet facilites
7) close swimming pools both public and private (don't know how you control people putting water in their private pool)
8) ration water in private homes thru meter? if they go over a certain amount, start charging triple prices
9) restrict use of planes leaving from BWI, Dulles, and National from using toliets for flights less than 2 hours long.
-Joe Kopf
Nobody needs to be washing their cars or mowing their lawns when there is a shortage of water. These are nice luxuries but they aren't necessary. These restrictions should be mandatory and shouldn't even be allowed on odd or even days. Everybody should just have the common courtesy of holding off for a few weeks.
-Eric Gally
I live in Poolesville where we've had a water restriction since July 7. Some suggestions:
1. I use buckets in our shower stalls to catch the water (especially effective to catch water when first running to get warm water). I then regularly take this water and use on my outside plants. Its amazing how much water one uses when taking a shower!
2. I have 2 "Gator Bags" --tree watering bags that hold about 25 gallons of water each.. I use the shower water to fill the bags and also rotate the bags to different trees--works great! But the bags are hard to find.
3. I have a hot tub on my back yard deck. I've been using the water from the hot tub via a hose to water all my back yard plants and trees. I called a pool watering service and had my hot tub refilled via a tanker truck. However, it was expensive and I'd recommend sharing the cost with another hot tub or pool owner.
-MaryLee Newman
Poolsville, Md.

While I agree that punishable restrictions should be implemented to conserve water, I hope those that are creative about using water to maintain a garden, for example, will not be fined. A lot of good ideas have been shared here - using dishwater, the cold water from waiting for the shower to warm up, etc., all this can be smartly used to water the outdoors. It's certainly better than having it go down the drain. But if some nosey neighbor sees your flowers aren't drooping, will they turn you in, claiming you aren't following the restrictions? I hope it doesn't come to it, but it wouldn't surprise me if it did. Maybe I will have to go out and buy water, so I have receipts prooving my ten little impatients aren't surviving at the cost of the State's reservoir level. But for now I will take things like the pre-shower water idea to a new level - why not close the drain completely, imagine the water that would accumulate while you shower. If you use pure soaps, I can't imagine the suds would do much damage to plants.

For one last idea, anyone who has a dehumidifier knows how much water can be sucked out of basement/house air. Gallons a day! Why not put that to good use, too?
-M. Mulder

Are the real estate developers and other businesses that produce vast amounts of trash that ends up in the land fills happy scratching their heads now? For years people have said that over development of certain regions will affect climate. But did they listen? NOOO.

THey should think of this drought as a wake up call. No one can deny the value of fresh clean water. Profits should be set aside and conservation should be the ultimate goal of every every citizen.

What good is a big bank account if you do not have water to drink?
-HArry Singh

Water restrictions should be year-round. Our society has been spoiled with an excess of everything, and few know how to conserve, no less preserve. It sickens me to watch my neighbors water their lawns for hours at a time, wash their cars every weekend, and my roommate take 30-minute showers, like we live in Planet Fluvial.

I wonder how many of my neighbors would survive if our reservoirs ran dry for just one summer. Water conservation and restriction should be the law of the land regardless of the amount held in our reservoirs. Tightening the belt is merely a small inconvenience Americans need to learn again (the older folks of WW2 know about sacrifice and conservation), or the next step may be rationing – again!
Herndon, VA

It's kind of sad that it takes mandatory restrictions to make us all (myself included) more responsible in our use of natural resources – drought or no drought. Perhaps it'd behoove us to carry some of the thrift we learn now into times when water is more plentiful. There's never a good time to waste. I'll give it a shot.

It's too bad there's no way to ration water, allowing people to use their allotment any way they want. My normal water use is about half what WSSC says the typical person uses. Will I be allowed to use kitchen wash water for my few flowers, or will this be illegal despite the fact that my overall usage is far less than my neighbors'!
–Richard McGuinness

Nobody needs to be washing their cars or mowing their lawns when there is a shortage of water. These are nice luxuries but they aren't necessary. These restrictions should be mandatory and shouldn't even be allowed on odd or even days. Everybody should just have the common courtesy of holding off for a few weeks.
–Eric Gally

Yes, I am in full accord with a mandatory water restriction policy. I believe that the necessary results will be achieved this way. I don't think that the average person understands the severity of the problem that we have with water, and many will ignore the restrictions unless they are mandantorily enforced.
–Charles L. Rice

I don't understand why people in DC and lower Montgomery County will be put under mandatory restrictions when their water comes not from a potentially depleted reservoir but from the Potomac River.

I realize the Potomac is flowing at a level below normal this summer, but I have yet to hear anyone say it's going to stop flowing or that drawing off too much river water will cause some harm to the environment or to other communities downstream.
–John Witherspoon, Jr.
Bethesda, MD

They should most definitely be mandatory. Normal water consumption is way above necessary limits. We could drastically cut down consumption without changing our lifestyles at all.

One idea: Don't let the water run while brushing teeth or shaving. This cannot be enforced, but can be strictly followed. Also, check all faucets before leaving home, and fix leaky ones.
–Anoop Nambudripad

The local media have not looked at the super-low level of Occoquan Reservoir, the drinking-water source for over 600,000 northern Virginia residents in Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.

I feel that until this is publicized, the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County – the controlling body of this reservoir belonging to the Fairfax County Water Authority – will fail to bite the bullet and issue mandatory water usage regulations.
–Julian T. Bolton

Here in Pennsylvania we already have mandatory water conservation. It means no washing cars, no watering lawns and watering gardens only after 5:00 p.m. using a hose, not a sprinkler. We save cooking water and other kitchen waste water for the houseplants and my husband's asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries and fruit trees. We've all but given up on the vegetables in his garden, since light to moderate watering has had very little effect on them.

I telecommute to a DC-area company. Since I don't have to go out in public more than once or twice a week, personal hygeine has become less of a priority than it normally is, and when I do shower, I try to conserve water by turning the flow off whenever possible. The dogs haven't been bathed in ages. We also don't flush the toilet every time we use it. Yet, surprisingly, we don't really feel as if we're making significant sacrifices – this routine became the norm relatively quickly. If we continue to get little or no rain through the rest of the summer, taking these steps now will be well worth it compared with the far more drastic measures that will be necessary if our community's wells run dry.
–Jan Helman

As a resident of suburban Silver Spring, the effects of the current drought are not as apparent to me as they would be in the more rural areas. Quite honestly, were it not for the news, I would not have noticed. Whether it immediately affects me or not, however, I do not oppose, and even welcome any restrictions on my use of our supply of water. Green lawns and shiny cars are no replacement for clean drinking water and successful crops.
–Scott Eister
Silver Spring

Unfortunately, I think you will have to make them mandatory. For the past couple of weeks, I have voluntarily cut back on water usage. My children have not played with the hose, I haven't watered anything, haven't washed my car and all eight of us in the family are on a shower schedule.

However, the other night while going to Giant, I saw a man in the neighborhood watering his grass and bushes. When returning from Giant 45 minutes later, he was still watering. (I know, he may have taken a break.) People like that deserve to be cited and fined. Mandatory water restricitons are the only way to provide consequences to truly ignorant people.
–Kathryn Jones

I believe that the mandatory restrictions should be put into effect. I will naturally take shorter showers, and less of them if possible. In addition, there are a lot of things we as concerned citizens can do to conserve precious water.

I personally save my condensate water from my air conditioner and use this water for my garden. It would otherwise go down the drain. A typical a/c unit produces about three to five gallons of water a day. Also, I have a "California Pot" in my bathroom so that I can save the cold water that comes out of the tap before the warm water of my shower. These are but a few of my ideas.....
–Rudolf M. Rojas

I believe the water restrictions should be manadatory. Even with mandatory restrictions people will waste water. But at least with the restrictions if people are caught using water unnecesarily they will be fined, and that may deter further wastefulness.

This is serious and without the state behaving seriously people will just go on using water normally, which is typically wasteful. It has made me evaluate the way I use water – and has made me act in a more conscientious manner. I think gas stations should turn off their car-washing machines and housing developments need to turn off their sprinkler systems – timers and all. Give people a list of ways to conserve water and give statistics on how their savings will help.

I live in Anne Arundel County and have well and septic systems. It is my opinion that private well systems should be excluded from the restrictions or, at most, be voluntary.
–Jarvis Bellamy
Anne Arundel, Maryland

I do believe that water restrictions should be mandatory. Unfortunately, many people would otherwise not comply with the restrictions because so many of us have our priorities in the wrong order. I don't have a problem with sacrificing a lawn or driving around in a dirty car if it means there will still be water for me to drink and bathe in.
–Tommie Ellison

My family has been conserving water for most of the summer. If there is a mandatory restriction, we plan on using the dishwater to water plants, especially our tomatoes. Living in a townhouse, we don't have much of a yard to begin with, and the grass never gets watered. Besides, grass is very hardy and will likely make it.

Otherwise, my wife and I have tried to instill in our 2-year-old daughter the importance of conserving water. Granted, it doesn't mean much to her yet. We will do our part and hope that everyone else will as well.
–Mike Shelby
Jessup, MD

I would suggest restricting golf courses from watering their courses or watering them at a very minimal level. If citizens must stop watering their property why should golf courses be exempted?
–Charu Khopkar
Washington, DC

Make the water restrictions mandatory. It's appalling that people are not being more conservative considering the situation with the drought. During a walk yesterday morning, I came across a sprinkler that was positioned so that it was watering half of the lawn and half of the street. Last night we opened the windows for the first time in weeks. Being nine months pregnant, I got up several times to relieve myself, only to discover our neighbor lavishly watering their lawn throughout the course of the night.
–Kelly Oleynik

I will follow all water restrictions put into place by the governor, but I think this is the wrong thing to do. The citizens of the majority of Prince George's County have paid a higher water rate than the other parts of the state to create a reservoir system to help with this drought problem. WSSC runs the Rocky Gorge and Tridelphia reservoirs that contain enough water, with no or little rain, to supply its customers until November 1999. Why, I ask, is the WSSC area put under restrictions that are not necessary? Is this politics for national disaster funds or just uninformed judgment?
–A loyal reader

It is strange that the surface of this planet is approximately 70 percent covered in water and we suffer from droughts every 30-odd years. Desalinization, although expensive, seems like a more modern, proactive alternative to the present method of dealing with drought. Desalinization could be used as a backup, when they hit. The ancient Egyptians thrived in the desert, some middle east countries rely on desalinization today and one day it is inevitable that one day we will extract moisture in outer space. People have for the last several decades learned to imitate sci-fi technology–just look at the many examples from Star Trek. So moisture farming, like in the first Star Wars movie, should not seem like such a strange concept.
–James Brooks

Why hasn't anyone proposed cloud seeding as a way of helping our drought situation? Why has this situation reached "Federal Disaster Area" levels without someone proposing that we do something about it?

I'm sure the cost has been considered "prohibitive"... But what about the cost of failed crops to farmers, higher produce prices, etc.
–Robin Manougian

I think the water restrictions should be mandatory. It is pretty terrifying to think that we only have about four weeks worth of water left. What happens after that? What is the backup plan if we don't get any rain? What if we run out – then what? I think we should be stringent with water now and conserve as much as possible – I'd rather flush the toilet less often now than have no drinking water in a few weeks. Also, if we run out of drinking water, I know I will be able to pay for bottled water but what about people in poorer areas of the city? What's the plan for that?
–Lillian Potter

© 1999 Washington Post Newsweek Interactive

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