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  • Restrictions, Voluntary Measures by Region
  • Special Report: The Drought of '99

  •   Grass Is Greener Across Street From Md.

    By Susan Saulny
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, August 15, 1999; Page B1

    On one side of the street, a man with a big mower trims his lawn.

    On the other, a man wishes he still had a lawn.

    On one side of the street, Ron Dade celebrates his "bumper crop" of beautiful tomatoes. On the other, Kelly and Mark Knebel lament the slow, wilting death of their pink begonias.

    There is perhaps no better place to see the juxtaposition of lushness and scorched earth than along the line between the haves and the have-nots called Western Avenue, the street that separates Montgomery County from Northwest Washington.

    What the "haves" have is water: On the District side, residents have the power to sprinkle, to hose to their heart's content, to saturate the land.

    The Maryland side of Western Avenue, however, is an arid place of government-imposed water restrictions, where sprinklers are outlawed and greenery seems banished.

    And at times, the two sides are a little too close for comfort. Water, or the lack of it, can bring out the worst in people: Pride. Envy. Loathing.

    Some people are coveting their neighbors' lawns.

    But you might, too, if your barren stretch of Maryland homefront looked out on a colorful and manicured Washington garden. Such is the living arrangement for the Knebels, whose address is "Bethesda." Their house faces that of Dade, whose address is "Washington," across Western Avenue.

    "It's funny, looking at both yards," said Dade, a retired Army major who takes particular pride in his double-lot's worth of healthy roses, flowering moss, hydrangeas, impatiens and snapdragons. "It's a funny thing on a bijurisdictional street like this."

    The Knebels don't think it's funny.

    They estimate they've lost about $2,000 worth of landscaping, and on top of all that, their immediate surroundings just look horrible. The lawn is brown and patchy. Their azaleas have all but died. Rows of geraniums have collapsed.

    While the Knebels have no malice toward Dade or their neighbors whose grass is greener, they can't help but joke with mock seriousness about their predicament: "Several of our friends who live in D.C. have said, 'We don't care if there's a water shortage. We're going to water if we want to,'" said Kelly Knebel, 29. "And I thought, 'Well that's just grrreat.'"

    The Knebels, who planted their sod last year, used to sprinkle every day. Some of their neighbors on the other side of the street still do. Yet everyone gets their water from the same source ultimately, the Potomac River. That fact has prompted some Marylanders to question the equity of the region's water conservation rules.

    "We like that we're in Maryland, [with its] good schools and regular services. But it can be frustrating at times," said Kelly Knebel. "Who ever thought District water would be a hot commodity?"

    In Chevy Chase Village, a block from Western Avenue in Maryland, 13-year-old Seth E. Morgan waters his family's flowers and shrubs with recycled water from a dehumidifier that drips into a bucket under their kitchen sink. Sometimes, he uses water discharged from the washing machine. But, he wonders, why shouldn't his District neighbors do the same?

    "[Mayor Anthony] Williams should call for restrictions," said Seth's father, also named Seth Morgan. "The line is just an artificial, government-created thing."

    Some people, like the Morgans, hope leaders will come to terms with fairness because the drought doesn't seem to be going anywhere. According to the National Weather Service in Sterling, the drought is going to last into the foreseeable future, despite yesterday's showers.

    "Not a drought buster," said Woody Woodcock, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "And it's going to be dry again for some time," at least for the next 10 days.

    Opinions on both sides of the street vary on whether Washington and Virginia be forced to abide by the same restrictions imposed by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), which ban watering lawns, washing cars at home or topping off pools.

    "Maybe we could alternate," suggested Ernest Brown, 31, of Bethesda, a medical student who has a parched lawn on Western Avenue. "It's your choice," said Jacqueline Davidson, 53, who lives on the District side of Western Ave.

    Although she may, legally, water her yard, Davidson has chosen to refrain. "I don't really care, personally," she said. "I don't really care if they die because I'm not a flower person."

    Norman Schou, a government lawyer who lives in Chevy Chase, D.C., is a flower person, and he said he'd be upset if he had to stop watering: "I think it's about moderation," said Schou, 60, who waters his lawn about twice a week.

    Schou's neighbor, Lynne Thiesfeld, a retired World Bank administrator, was more sanguine.

    "We've had droughts before, and I'm sure we'll all get through this one, too," she said.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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