In response to the harshest springtime drought ever recorded in this area and unprecedented use of water, Anne Arundel County officials yesterday banned outdoor water use from 4 to 10 p.m. on weekdays.
A weekend ban imposed from noon to midnight will stay in effect, officials of the Department of Public Utilities said, and they will begin imposing $25 fines on people who illegally water their lawns, wash their cars or otherwise disobey the regulations.
The drastic measures came after water pressure fell in the county to the point where the community of Severna Park, north of Annapolis, ran out of water Monday night.
"This was worse than low pressure -- this was no pressure," said Marilyn Harmon of the county utilities department. "Our fire department depends on water. In this area, there was none."
Water pressure is generally relatively low in a high-lying area such as Severna Park, because the water must be pumped uphill. When water consumption in the county reached 3.5 times its normal daily level on Monday night, Harmon said, so much water was being drained from taps around the county that there was not enough pressure left in the system to keep water flowing uphill to Severna Park. Pressure there returned to normal yesterday.
The city of Annapolis, which has its own water system, reported no problems and is not affected by the ban.
Water supply officials in the District, as well as Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, also reported no shortages.
But the Fairfax County Water Authority has asked its 150,000 customers to water lawns only on Saturdays if their houses have odd numbers, and on Sundays if they have even numbers.
Response by Fairfax residents was disappointing in the first weekend of voluntary restrictions, but the authority is not considering mandatory restrictions, said Jim Warfield, deputy authority director.
Officials in all jursidictions said there is plenty of water in reservoirs, rivers and the ground. But so much water is being sprinkled on withered lawns and rose beds that the water distribution systems in some areas cannot keep up. "Everyone has a tap on," said Harmon. "It's like pouring water down a pipe filed with holes. We just couldn't keep the pipe filled, and the people at the top were the first ones to run out of water."
Kathy Spampinato, who lives in Severna Park, discovered Monday night what it was like to live at the top of the pipe. "Last night at bath time, the water was just trickling out," she said. "It all honesty, it took about half an hour to fill the tub . . . . It's a genuine nuisance. When you're washing dishes or rinsing your hair, you have half the pressure. It's a total pain."
With the weekend ban on outdoor water use, she said, "we can't use sprinklers, and the grass is like straw. I have tomato plants, and the ground around them is just crusty. It's awful." Spampinato said water inspectors seem to have their eyes peeled, however: She said that a neighbor was caught watering his lawn and was issued a warning and a brochure on water conservation.
Harold Hess, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said rainfall in March, April and May was the lowest for that three-month period since record keeping began in 1871: Instead of the normal 9.87 inches, only 3.47 inches fell. So far in June, only 0.06 inch of rain has been recorded at the measuring center at National Airport.
One reason there has not been more rain, Hess said, is that winds have generally been blowing in from the west and north. If the winds come from the south and southwest, Hess said, they pick up moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Why this has not happened, he said, "only God can answer."
Hess said there will be "no immediate relief." Forecasters have predicted a 40 percent chance of showers today, he said, but the rains will probably be scattered.
Marjorie Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which provides water to Montgomery and Prince George's, said the commission has broken three water supply records this year and still has plenty of water to pump.
Robert Miller, chief of the water supply division of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said water may have to be released from reservoirs to supply the Washington area this summer.