Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that he is "optimistic" that state restrictions on water use can be eased today, saying recent rain and rising reservoir and stream levels after almost a month of forced conservation justify the move.
Water conservation efforts reduced water use by 16 percent last week compared with what is typically used in August, and several days of drenching showers bolstered river flow to almost normal capacity in some cases. The rainfall deficit is now 9.7 inches, two inches less than last week.
Glendening administration sources said the governor will direct his drought advisory committee today to study three options for lifting the restrictions, ranging from a partial rollback of mandatory limits to a complete shift to voluntary conservation. A possible intermediate step, sources said, would be to impose mandatory restrictions only on jurisdictions still suffering from short supply.
"I am optimistic that we will be able to provide some relief from the mandatory restrictions tomorrow [Wednesday] after the Drought Emergency Coordinating Committee meets," Glendening (D) said in a statement. "I have asked the [committee] to review the figures and recommend whether we can lift the restrictions either statewide, as a phased-in approach, or on a regional basis."
Since imposing mandatory restrictions Aug. 4, Glendening repeatedly has asked the public to allow time for the state's streams and reservoirs to refill amid one of the worst droughts on record. The governor said last week that the mandatory limits, backed by the threat of criminal sanctions, could be in place for at least two months.
But subsequent storms brought more rain than expected, pushing August rainfall totals to above average and increasing the political pressure on Glendening to lift the restrictions. Just yesterday, state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, Glendening's predecessor, said he opposed the restrictions and suggested the governor was inflexible for not reassessing them sooner.
Glendening is the Washington area's only leader to impose mandatory limits, sparking a regional debate over how to tend to a water supply shared by Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District. The other two jurisdictions have gone only as far as voluntary calls for conservation, citing the hefty supply in the network of reservoirs built over the last two decades in case of such a drought.
The most recent river-flow figures show that the Potomac River, which supplies water to Washington and its suburbs, got a significant boost from last week's rains. Once flowing at less than half its capacity, the Potomac now is running at 93 percent of its normal rate. Across the state, rivers are running at an average of 15 percent above normal.
But while praising Marylanders for cutting water use, Glendening cautioned that some parts of the state still were experiencing water shortages. Specifically, he said in a statement, the three reservoirs serving the Baltimore area are still at less than half capacity even though last week's storms added 1.1 billion gallons to them.
The uneven water supply across the state may prompt the drought committee to leave mandatory restrictions in place in some areas while lifting them in others. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said voluntary restrictions probably are warranted in his suburb.
"We are in a much better situation than Baltimore," Duncan said. "To me, the important message has been conservation, whether it's voluntary or mandatory. The public understands the need for it, and it's working. We are not out of the drought yet. We need a lot more rain."