No one has been cited or fined yet for illegal use of water during this summer's drought. But Southern Maryland and state law enforcement officials already have warned dozens of homeowners and businesses that they could go to jail if they're caught violating this week's emergency order banning many outdoor water uses.
Officials are emphasizing that the ban applies to everyone--whether your water comes from a private well or a municipal water system.
"We're drawing from the same aquifer. We're all in this together," said Thomas Russell, assistant director of St. Mary's County Metropolitan Commission, the county's sanitary commission in charge of public water and sewage.
Unlike their northern neighbors, most Southern Maryland residents draw water from private or public wells. With the statewide water restrictions announced this week by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), officials in St. Mary's and Charles counties scrambled to set up a local system that would allow some businesses--watermen and self-employed auto detailers, for instance--to apply for exemptions.
Calvert County appointed a local drought coordinator, County Administrator James J. Allman, to review applications for exemptions.
In the meantime, business owners are feeling the pinch of drought.
"It's definitely hurting," said Elliott Burch Jr., owner of several car washes in St. Mary's County and one in Charles County. Like other car washes in the region, Burch has been forced to cut back his 24-hour, seven-day-a-week business to several days a week. As a result, three employees' work hours also were cut back, Burch said.
Jack Faig, owner of Splash N' Dash in Huntingtown in Calvert County, is able to operate his business as usual because his 10-month-old car wash recycles more than 80 percent of its water.
"I checked it two days ago with the company that installed my system, just to make sure," Faig said. "I'm really lucky I've got this recycling system."
On Day Three of the governor's emergency order, law enforcers didn't issue any citations to violators turned in by water narcs in Southern Maryland. Calvert County Sheriff Vonzell R. Ward (R) said his office received about 30 calls from tipsters Wednesday, the day restrictions were imposed. Nearly all of the callers were informing on their neighbors, Ward said.
"They were calling about the guy next door watering the lawn or washing his car," Ward said, adding that none of the informants turned in a family member.
"We haven't had any kids calling about Dad," he said.
On Thursday night, state troopers on regular patrol in Leonardtown noticed a stream of water on a roadside. They followed the water trail to a nursery and found plants and saplings basking in artificial rain. The next day, a trooper called and told the business it had been warned, a spokeswoman for the state police said.
But commercial nurseries and landscaping businesses actually are required to reduce only 10 percent of water use, according to the state order.
In Charles County, the sheriff's office checked on nine complaints since the governor issued the order. A trooper was dispatched to speak with a teenager who was reported to be washing his car in a driveway.
"You know, 16-year-olds and their first cars. They have to keep it clean," said Craig Renner, spokesman for the Charles County sheriff's office.
"We went out on a couple of cases and we've reminded people of the restrictions," Renner said. But no citations were issued.
Jill Campbell, operations clerk at the Metropolitan Commission, fielded the calls from residents who reported neighbors. The sanitary commission received about three dozen calls.
"They have a lot of fears about not having water when they need it. They wanted to know what will happen to their neighbor who is continuing to water their lawn. But they also want anonymity because they don't want their neighbors to hate them either," Campbell said.
Water Restrictions in Maryland
Water restrictions imposed this week by Gov. Parris N. Glendening affect all Maryland residents and businesses, regardless of whether they have well or public water. The restrictions include:
* Lawns may not be watered.
* Gardens may only be watered with buckets/cans or a hand-held hose.
* Homeowners may not wash cars.
* Commercial car washing allowed only where 80 percent of water is recycled.
* Private homeowner pools may not be filled or topped off.
* Public pools and residential pools serving 25 or more dwelling units may be filled or topped off.
* Washing paved surfaces such as streets, sidewalks, driveways, patios and parking lots is prohibited.
* Operation of ornamental fountains, artificial waterfalls and reflecting pools is not allowed.
* Agricultural irrigation is allowed.
* At golf courses, fairways can be watered only using syringe irrigation while tees and greens can be watered without restriction.
Anyone with further questions can call the state's special drought hot line at 1-877-4-DROUGH. Individual Maryland counties have the authority to exempt residents or businesses from the statewide water restrictions if they would create a hardship. Applications for such exemptions must be made to each county and will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The procedures are as follows:
Residents or businesses seeking an exemption must submit a 1999 Drought Emergency Application for Variance form. Copies of the form can be picked up at the reception desk in the county courthouse or can be ordered by mail by calling 410-535-1600, Ext. 301. This form also can be downloaded from the Calvert County Web site at www.co.cal.md.us.
Completed forms can be faxed to (410) 535-5594; hand-delivered to Room 209 in the courthouse; or mailed to Drought Coordinator, c/o County Administrator's Office, 175 Main St., Prince Frederick, Md. 20678.
Applicants will be notified in writing of a decision on their application. If a request is denied, applicants can appeal to the state and will be informed of the appeals process.
County spokeswoman Nina Voehl said officials are establishing an application process and residents or businesses that wish to obtain an exemption should call the county's office of Fiscal Services/Utility Billing at 301-645-0624.
St. Mary's County
County officials on Friday were developing procedures that would allow business owners to apply for exemptions to the statewide water use restrictions. In the interim, people should contact the Maryland Department of the Environment, 1-877-4-DROUGH.
CAPTION: Oreo walks through a dry irrigation pond on the Russell farm in St. Mary's County.
CAPTION: Drought is causing underdeveloped corn.