The region's worst drought in generations will require Marylanders to put up with restrictions that are even more strict than those envisioned a few days ago, Gov. Parris N. Glendening warned yesterday as he prepared to impose the first limits on water use statewide.
A special drought task force of state and local officials urged Glendening (D) during a closed-door meeting to prohibit state residents from sprinkling their lawns or washing their cars as part of a broad strategy to conserve water.
Their recommendations come at a time when officials in the District and much of Virginia so far have decided against the need to take similar action, arguing that the water supply remains sufficient. Glendening, however, said he considers the drought so severe he will issue statewide mandatory restrictions by tomorrow.
"The package we'll adopt will cause some loss and hardship," he said. "There will be some loss of lawns and flowers."
Glendening said he would not go into specifics on the proposals he is considering or how they would be enforced. He did say that he expected local governments to help with enforcement and that initially violators would receive warnings rather than fines as part of the effort to educate the public about the need to curtail the use of water.
Businesses also will be asked to cut back as much as possible, though the governor's spokesman, Michael Morrill, said any restrictions would be based on "simplicity and common sense. We're not trying to put anybody out of business."
In the District, Mayor Anthony A. Williams is scheduled to meet with D.C. water and sewer officials today to discuss the city's water quality and the drought's impact on the city. The mayor then plans to make a statement on what residents can do to conserve water, but Elizabeth Lawson, a spokeswoman for the District's Water and Sewer Authority said there are no plans to impose water restrictions.
Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) also has put no limits on water use statewide, but Loudoun County began enforcing mandatory water restrictions over the weekend, and Fairfax City has called for voluntary restrictions.
"We are monitoring it closely, and we seem to have the problem in spots as opposed to statewide," said Lila Young, a spokeswoman for Gilmore.
In Loudoun, officials said the restrictions have helped curb water use. Deputies there have issued eight verbal warnings so far, including those to residents who have been spotted watering their lawns or using hoses to wash cars. Second-time violators face fines of up to $500.
The entire mid-Atlantic has been hit hard by the worst drought since 1931. West Virginia has declared a drought emergency, and most of Pennsylvania is under mandatory water restrictions. Delaware is preparing to impose mandatory restrictions by the end of the week, according to a spokeswoman for Gov. Thomas R. Carper (D). New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) has declared a "drought warning" and yesterday sought federal assistance for farmers whose crops have been devastated.
When Glendening proposed a statewide drought emergency for Maryland on Thursday, he said that he expected statewide water restrictions to be phased in gradually and that the most strict limits might be needed only on a regional basis. The Washington suburbs served by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission have a larger water supply on hand than Baltimore does.
But the task force found that the drought is even more severe than originally thought and has recommended skipping lesser restrictions, such as allowing lawn sprinkling once a week, and adopting tougher measures immediately.
"For Prince George's and Montgomery counties, it is a serious situation," said Maryland Department of Environment Secretary Jane Nishida. "We looked at a phased-in approach. We did not think that would be sufficient."
The Baltimore region, including portions of Howard and Anne Arundel counties, has less than a 35- to 60-day supply of water. Yesterday, Glendening instructed the city water system to begin tapping the Susquehanna River to build up its reserves.
The WSSC serving Montgomery and Prince George's counties has enough water to serve its customers through November even if there is no rain, but commission Chairman W. Gregory Wims said he supported the governor's call for statewide restrictions.
"Maybe we have more reserves than others, but we are one Maryland," said Wims, who serves on the drought task force. "The majority of citizens in our district know the situation. Their grass is brown."
WSSC customers use about 210 million gallons of water a day, and Wims said the commission hoped to see that cut back by more than 20 million gallons.
He said the commission already has the legal authority to ask local police departments to begin enforcing any water restrictions, including fining violators up to $500. Wims said he expected the restrictions to be enforced by police on patrol and by residents filing complaints about neighbors who violate the ban. The WSSC probably would refer complaint calls to police, Wims said.
Until then, forecasters see little relief in sight and predict only a slight chance of thunderstorms this week.
"There's a low chance on Thursday, but that's about it until next week," said Phil Poole, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "But I wouldn't want to go to the bank on that."
Glendening said he did not expect a backlash from Washington area residents enduring the restrictions even though the area has a greater supply of water than elsewhere in the state. The governor, who lives in Hyattsville, said, "I live with my precious azaleas in the WSSC area, and I'm prepared" to lose the plants.
Staff writers Michael H. Cottman and Maria Glod contributed to this report.