Water Use Falls in Md. as Limits Kick In |
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 6, 1999; Page A1
Water use dropped significantly in suburban Maryland yesterday, the first full day of statewide drought restrictions, but callers flooded government hot lines with complaints about the new rules and reports that their neighbors were violating the limits.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves Prince George's and Montgomery counties, reported that water use yesterday probably declined by at least the 10 percent that Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) set as a goal. Use had jumped slightly on Wednesday, which utility officials attributed to people trying to beat the new limits.
Water demand also has dropped below typical summertime levels in Loudoun County, where mandatory restrictions began Sunday, officials said. Loudoun officials said they have issued 20 warnings but no citations yet.
Even in Fairfax County, where conservation is voluntary, officials said this week's use was about 10 percent lower than predicted, probably in response to concerns about the drought.
Debate continued about the necessity of restrictions imposed on Maryland residents Wednesday.
Esther Bowring, a Montgomery County spokeswoman, said "zillions" of people had called about the drought, many of them reacting to comments from water officials who have said there is no scientific need for water cutbacks.
"They are saying things like, 'I saw that there is no water problem, so why do we have to do this?' " Bowring said.
The yearlong drought has intensified over the past month, with worsening agricultural damage and fire danger reported throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The National Weather Service forecasts no significant rain through Tuesday, and little chance of rain through mid-August.
Yesterday, Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper (D) imposed mandatory water-use limits on the northern part of the state, where two-thirds of the population lives and works. And the Associated Press reported that New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) has decided to impose restrictions as early as today. Limits also are in effect in many Pennsylvania communities. In the District and most of Northern Virginia, though, conservation is voluntary because officials say Potomac River supplies stored in reservoirs upstream are adequate. None has been tapped since last month.
On orders from Glendening, Baltimore Public Works Director George Balog announced that diversion of water from the Susquehanna River will begin tomorrow night and will replenish city supplies by Monday. The Baltimore water system -- one of the hardest-hit by the drought in the state -- serves 1.8 million people in Baltimore, Baltimore County and portions of Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
"I'm not going to second-guess any decision by the state," he said.
In downtown Washington, the National Park Service turned off some of its most widely watched fountains in response to the drought -- at the Reflecting Pool, Freedom Plaza, Chevy Chase Circle and Hains Point. The Park Service also limited its watering to the trees on the National Mall and in East and West Potomac Parks, which include the famed cherry trees. It stopped watering the lawns at the White House, on the Ellipse and in Lafayette Square. The Department of Agriculture cut off water to the lawn at its headquarters building yesterday on orders of Secretary Dan Glickman.
District fire officials warned of an increase in brush fires in the city, including one in Rock Creek Park on Wednesday, and urged people not to toss cigarette butts out their car windows and to be careful when grilling outdoors.
Throughout the day, Maryland residents bombarded the state drought hot line at a rate of 300 calls per hour for information and complaints about the new restrictions, the first imposed statewide in the mid-Atlantic region, which is parched by the worst drought since the Depression. People who fill their swimming pools, water their lawns or wash their cars with hoses face fines of up to $1,000, but local police departments promised to issue warnings first and civil penalties only for subsequent offenses.
At a news conference on the banks of the Potomac yesterday, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) answered critics of Maryland's water restrictions by attacking the officials at area water authorities. He said the advice from the water officials was tainted, and he accused them of misleading the elected leaders because their livelihoods depend on selling water.
"The agencies that tell you when there is a water emergency are the people who make money off of selling water," Duncan said. "We have to see if that's right."
Duncan specifically criticized the WSSC, which he accused of being slow to back even voluntary restrictions. WSSC officials have denied that contention, saying they consistently emphasize conservation.
Other water officials also dismissed Duncan's criticism. "We're not misleading anybody," said James A. Warfield Jr., executive officer of the Fairfax County Water Authority. "Our recommendations are based on science. [Duncan] is just flat-out wrong."
Duncan was joined by leaders of Fairfax and Arlington counties who pledged solidarity with Maryland and said they will continue urging residents to conserve water. Some Northern Virginia officials criticized the Maryland drought limits Wednesday as unnecessary, saying Washington area jurisdictions have enough water in reservoirs to last through November.
If it had been up to him, Duncan said, "I think we would still be doing an educational campaign," not imposing restrictions, but his aides quickly said the Montgomery executive was not criticizing Glendening's actions.
Staff writers Steven Gray, Jefferson Morley, Michael D. Shear, Jackie Spinner and Scott Wilson contributed to this report.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company