Early this morning, weather permitting, water will once again flow from the pale green fountain that sits on the lawn of the Maryland governor's mansion.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's staff offers a simple explanation: With drought restrictions lifted, there's no longer a concern for water conservation.

But anyone who knows the fountain's history knows the waters run far deeper.

The 12-foot bronze fountain was commissioned in 1990 by Hilda Mae Snoops, the longtime companion of then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and drew complaints early on about its cost and rococo design.

Since Glendening turned off the water in the summer of 2001, the fountain has become the most obvious manifestation of the simmering feud between the current and former governors. Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has promised repeatedly to turn it back on -- with appropriate fanfare -- after he takes office Jan. 15.

Yesterday, Schaefer was clearly irritated that Glendening had preempted the planned ceremony.

"It's another dirty trick," Schaefer said. "We were going to have a celebration. He's doing it this way out of spite, the way he's done most things in his career. He amazes me at how petty he can be."

Glendening spokesman Charles F. Porcari said there was nothing petty about it. "The decision was made, as it always has been, about conservation and symbolism," Porcari said.

On Wednesday, the governor lifted drought restrictions in central Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

The fountain is usually shut off in the winter, but with mild weather expected today, the Department of General Services will turn it on temporarily to test the pumps and pipes, Porcari said. When the weather gets cold again, it will be turned off, he said.

He expects no fanfare when the fountain is turned on this morning about 7:30. "This is not about ceremonies," Porcari said. "This is about water conservation, plain and simple."