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  Readers React to Drought, Water Restrictions

Wednesday, August 4, 1999; 3:44 p.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.

I have a hard time deciding if good purpose will be served by making the restrictions mandatory. If people don't have the sense to conserve water in the first place, then I'm pretty sure they will waste water anyway and hope not to get caught. Then you get down to neighbor ratting on neighbor. Not a pretty thought.
–Christine E. Howlett

I fish in the Potomac River often, which makes me well aware of how great a resource it is. But just last week, the river level actually went up a foot at White's Ferry. If our sacrifice was to actually make more water available to neighboring areas, I would be willing to cut back. But from what I read this is not the case. No one will benifit from us conserving.
–Jim Priovolos
Gaithersburg, Maryland

I have to admit that although I intend to comply with the pending mandatory water restrictions, I resent having to be inconvenienced because of others' wastefulness. My husband and I live by common sense water and electricity usage every day. We run the dishwasher once a week, we only do full loads of laundry, we turn the faucet off when brushing our teeth, we don't flush the toilet after each use, we have water saving shower heads and toilets, we don't wash our cars very frequently, we use a leaf blower or broom rather than hose off our sidewalks and patio. To save electricity we only run the dishwasher and washer/dryer during off-peak hours--many don't know it's 3-4 times cheaper, we program our A/C to run less when we're not home, we installed florescent bulbs in frequently used lights (e.g., the porch light), we installed insulating cell shades to keep the afternoon sun out, and we installed timers on outdoor lights so they won't run all night.

Even though there are three adults in our home, our water bill barely reaches $50 per quarter (except in the summer when we indulge our newly seeded lawn). Last summer we tilled and conditioned a large section of our backyard and planted over $1000 of flowers and trees. It took us two months of hard labor in the hottest part of the summer. I tend my flowers daily. It's my relaxation and hobby. I would hate to have to let everything wither and die because of the every day wastefulness of others.
–Shawne Carter McGibbon

I see firsthand the tragic impact of the drought. The lake on which I live is also a reservoir for various areas of Frederick County, Md, and for too long now we have witnessed the continual drop in water level, it is easily 12 to 15 feet below normal. The docks are on dry land and soon the boats will be also and STILL WE HAVE NO MANDATORY STATEWIDE WATER RESTRICTIONS -- only voluntary ones...

Mandatory water restrictions are long overdue, and should be implemented with some teeth. There are individuals whose attention you will not get unless it costs them. There also needs to be sufficient manpower/police allocated in each area to respond to calls reporting abuses, so the addition of security personnel may be an option.

And because I expect those responsible for checking into water abuse complaints will be run ragged, I propose that if a 2nd warning is issued, the water to that household be IMMEDIATELY shut off and a hefty fine or water company charge of $250 or $500 be imposed AND PAID before the water service is turned back on. With each subsequent occurrence the fine would double, or something at least that severe.

I read a few days ago that the Washington area currently has a 35-day supply of water. At what point do we begin to take this seriously?

Glendening's plan to impose statewide mandatory water restrictions is OUTRAGEOUS.

When it comes to paying taxes, residents of Montgomery County are treated differently from other folks in the state, paying the highest tax rates of any county in Maryland. But when it comes to water restrictions, we get the 'equal opportunity treatment' and have to suffer because some counties in other parts of Maryland did not plan ahead as we did to build up enough water reserves?

I don't think it is fair and, if statewide mandatory restrictions get enacted, I will seriously think about moving elsewhere. I am already pretty fed up with the red tape, capricious police behavior, and high taxes in Montgomery County. This will definitely be the last straw.

As a politician for statewide office, Glendening should sacrifice his azaleas - he has enough money to replace them. But don't you dare threaten mine unless you are prepared to reimburse me for the cost of replacing them.
-Anne Brooks
Montgomery County, Md.

I live in southern Carroll County where we have been under a water restriction for the past three Summers. This is the worst summer ever now that two of our reservoirs are dry. It is scary to drive past your water supply and see grass growing in it.

I believe water restrictions should be mandatory since some people feel that the problem is not that dire or just don't care. Everyone needs to do their part to conserve. Don't wash your car. DON'T WATER YOUR LAWN, grass is hearty and will go dormant. Ladies, turn off the shower when you are shaving your legs. Turn off the shower when you are soaping and shampooing. Rather than letting the water run while washing food, dishes or anything for that matter, fill a bowl/pan with water and wash items in the bowl/pan. Reuse water for your outdoor watering needs. I use my son's used bath water as well as water leftover from boiling food to water our wilting garden, flowers and trees.

The Southern Carroll County (particularly the Freedom District) has been under a housing development boom over the past several years. However, our water treatment facility is operating on the same system it did 20 years ago. The Commissioners never considered the consequences of allowing so many houses to be built. Our water supply has become dire and our roads can barely handle the volume of cars. Yet, the County Commissioners continue to allow building permits to be granted and new houses to be constructed. The commissioner's complete disregard for their constituent's basic resource is appalling.

In addition, those who fear the doom and gloom of Y2K should wake up and realize there is more concern in the future of our natural resource, water, than there is in potential computer glitches at the end of the year. Rather than stockpiling your basic needs, conserve your resources so that they will be available later.

Yes, conserving can be a pain and an inconvenience, but I would rather be a little inconvenienced now than not have ANY water later.
-Colleen Finn
Carroll County, Md.

What will I do to save water? Simple,.. I'll drink beer instead, imported of course so it doesn't come from our water supply.
My name is Geoffrey Palcher and my family has a house that runs on well water and we are worried the well is going to run dry before the end of the summer if we don't see some rain in the forecast. I have been conserving water to help reduce the chance of our well running dry. I have cut back dramaticly on the length of my showers, when I have to do my laundry I fill it to capacity and use a medium water setting. A while ago when we first heard of people losing water we started to cut back a little, for example not watering my vegetable garden, or not washing any of my family's cars. Those are some of many ways my family and I are cutting back on water usage.
-Geoffrey Palcher
I will only stop, if the Park Service stop watering the grounds at the White House and Capitol.
-David Coates
Bethesda, Md.

I absolutely think water restrictions should be mandatory. Water is a natural resource that most people take for granted, and it would be helpful to be reminded just how precious--and crucial to farmers--it is.
-Ben Grossman
We could take a lesson from our trans-Atlantic European neighbors and our local laundromats. They use side loading washing machines which use significantly less water and electricity. Think about it, everytime you use a top loader you have to fill the entire drum full of water while a side-loader uses about 1/3 of the drum for water. This means less electricity needed to heat enough hot water to fill the washing machine and I think side loaders do a much better job washing clothes too. This energy/water saver should be suggested more often to new homeowners and people buying washing machines. It's a win-win situation for everyone!
-Anthony D. Riker
Silver Spring, Md.

How will I save water? I will work to save more than I usually do. I will continue to take "military showers" by only running the water at the beginning and end of my shower. I will let the toilet "mellow when it's yellow". I will try to use as little water while doing dishes or brushing my teeth as possible.

My only wish is that we did this all of the time. Waiting for crisis situations before starting to conserve is too late. We need to look at our everyday lives that lead to problems like this, and then work on prevention. I have not seen any reports about the possibilities of climate change and how all of our driving, energy use, and overall consumption contributes to the depletion and/or destruction of natural resources.

Live simply so that others may live.
-Neil Payne
Washington, D.C.

I have mixed feelings regarding the drought mandate:

First, we just bought a new home and we're trying desperately to keep the lawn watered for the sod to take hold - we've already lost a tree and flowers and shrubs.

I'm conserving water where I can:
I'm not letting water run in the sinks - I wash dishes only when I have a full dishwasher - I wash every two weeks to make sure I have full loads - I take shorter showers
-Cassandra Muse

I find it absolutely inconceivable that people can be so naive about the world around them. We have been in a drought for over a year now, although the last few months have made the realities of it come to light. To hear people say that they don't understand why they have to restrict their water because they feed off of the Potomac, even though its running lower than usual (it does have an effect on the wildlife in the river and for the communities down below, not to mention that feeding reservoirs have already been opened just to keep it at the level it is at right now); or they have a personal well (your well draws from an aquifer just as everyone's does, and your water use will lower the water table, and if the drought doesn't let up, your well will run dry, as well); or there is enough water until November (well, what happens if we don't get the rain we need by November, where will you be then?).

The way that the DC metro area and the surrounding states have reacted to this drought is awful. Voluntary restrictions should have been made public months ago, with a direct and concise list of what to do and why it needs to be done. Mandatory, and strict, restrictions need to go into place immediately. What is the reasoning behind using all of our water until there is no more? I realize that many people were not around during the 1930's, neither was I, but all one needs to do is pick up a history book or look on the web to see the horrors that such a drought can cause. Yes, we are more technologically adept at the end of the millennium, but there is yet to be a computer that can make water to relieve the drought. The farmers are feeling the worst of the effect right now, with their entire livelihoods shriveling away, and yet the suburbanites refuse to let their lawns brown? Lawns are supposed to do that in the summer, that is their self-saving mechanism. They will come back next summer. But 1000s of acres of corn and soy and wheat, not to mention hay for livestock, their death will affect not only the farmers, but also the local food prices and availability.

It seems almost as the governments of VA, MD, and DC are embarrassed by this drought, as though it is something that they could have controlled. It is an act of nature and the only control that they have is reminding citizens of the role we play in the depletion of nature. Their job is not to hide behind the scenes, hoping this will go away so they don't have to ask their wealthy donors to stop washing their cars and watering their lawns, but to explain the situation clearly to the populace, with the potential risks clearly laid out. Then, one would hope, people might realize how important it is to conserve.

The comments in this column from those readers already conserving are right on the money. There are plenty of ways to conserve water that are easy and will not drastically change your life. However, not saving water could do just that.
-Jessica Miller
Annapolis, Md.

I have lived most of my live in the southwest and don't understand the big deal of water restrictions. In many parts of the country is a normal way of life. In the southwest most people have enough respect for each other that they curb the use of water without having the government involved. Summer colors for lawns has always been brown. Farmers grow things that need the water they are given. I don't think this drought was any surprise. It has been dry for over a year. Why didn't the farmers plant grains such as wheat that start early in the year and are harvested by this time, instead of soybean and corn, which take a lot of water. There seems to be a lack of planning in every walk of life in this part of the country. Also a big to-do on the news media in the over coverage of this lack of rain. I have the best grape crop I've ever had, because of the lack of rain. Matter of fact, my yard is also sort of green and I haven't watered. I live in Loudoun County and I don't see the reason for all the fuss.
-Michael W. Opiela
I read with interest your reader response column on water restrictions. It seems strange that in so commercially oriented society there are so few who would suggest a sharp per gallon of water price increase as a way of dealing with water shortage (price could go down after supply returns to normal levels). As a student of economics I feel compelled to suggest just that - increase prices and let those who want to wash their cars at $20 or more (I have no idea how much it costs now) do just that. No one would have to report on anybody and no one would have to enforce anything or feel bad about their neighbours complying or not with restrictions. Needless to say I do conserve water myself and my hat goes off to others that do too.
-Mariusz Sumlinski
I am already limiting shower time and already have a brick in my toilet so that it needs less water to fill. I use water for things like brushing my teeth sparingly. All of these things I do as a matter of course, and have done them for years. I'm a strong believer in water conservation all the time. As for the current situation, I am flushing the toilet less often, I'm not washing my car for the duration, and I live in an apartment, so I have just a few houseplants. The idea shared here of collecting the first shower water is a good one, and that's what I'll do to water my plants from now on.

One note of caution - Someone here suggested turning off water fountains. If they're referring to ornamental fountains, fine. But not fine for drinking fountains. it's important to remember that we are also going through a very hot summer and some people do rely on drinking fountains for water to drink. And we all know the importance of drinking enough water during hot weather.
-Elizabeth Rose
Middletown, MD

Unfortunately, the restrictions have to be mandatory because there are always a few selfish people who will not comply with voluntary restrictions. I think that Virginia and DC should follow Maryland's example. They are saying that they have enough water for the next few months, but we do not know how long this drought will last - why wait until it is a crisis? My friend who drives into the city everyday, says that the sprinklers are still running on the White House lawn. Perhaps the Clintons could set an example? The White House must use a lot of water that could be recycled!

I am reminded of an elementary school science project where we built terrariums. We put soil and plants in a glass container with plastic wrap on the top. We were able to watch moisture build up on the plastic - then it would 'rain' inside the terrarium. If the soil got too dry, no more rain. I keep wondering if this is the same pattern we are seeing here? Have we over-developed the area and taken too much water from the ground? I would be interested to hear opinions of scientists on this.

Ladies - I have found that I can cut my shower time in half by shaving my legs with shaving cream before I get in the shower. The lawn is dead - no big deal compared to running out of water!
Anne Arundel County

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