There were some people in the shower, some doing laundry and some making breakfast the morning of Aug. 27 when the water ceased to flow in the 240-home Mechanicsville subdivision of Country Lakes.
Water had been dwindling to the point of intermittent cutoffs in recent months, but this time it didn't return until 12:30 a.m. the next day, residents of the St. Mary's County community reported.
The trouble began that Saturday when a backhoe tore up a power line to a newly installed 150-gallon-a-minute water pump, said Larry K. Petty, director of the County Metropolitan Commission, the agency that operates St. Mary's water and sewer systems.
That pump was to have cured the problem of low water pressure affecting houses in higher elevations in the development, 100 feet above the rest, Petty said. But with no electricity to one of its three chambers, the pump burned up trying to fill the demand on two-thirds its power.
After the water failed, "I had to take two coolers down to the 7-Eleven to get water to flush the toilets with," said Cliff Fluharty, president of the Country Lakes Homeowners Association.
"I had to melt ice cubes to get the animals watered," said Becky Jordan, one of the first to move into the subdivision nearly a year ago. "I spent $45 in a motel and $20 to eat out. I work at the closest restaurant, and I saw everybody I know coming through the door saying, 'Well, here we are. We can't cook.' "
About 50 residents last week assembled on their tennis court and listened, arms folded, as developer Sonny Burch and county officials apologized and explained with charts the intricacies of water supply. They promised repairs.
Residents complained that their new homes, ranging in price from $50,000 to $120,000, were being fed by a pump designed to handle a much smaller load. They pointed out that another 100 homes at neighboring Beverly Estates were tapped into their system.
True, Petty said, but he noted that in the continuing dry spell, Country Lakes' water consumption has climbed--nearly tripling between June and July. "There are a lot of green lawns out there," he said.
Last week, the metropolitan commission had a new $5,000 pump flown in from Atlanta. It was installed 260 feet underground. Petty said Burch also has contracted for a second well and pump to tie into the system within a month.
Fluharty said the water pressure at higher levels was still as lackluster as ever--"You can't wash your car"--but he said he hoped that with the second pump coming on line, the pressure problem will be solved once and for all. "By then, summer will be over, anyway," he said.