As Marylanders confronted their fifth full day of water restrictions, there were signs that statewide water limits set last week by Gov. Parris N. Glendening were surpassing expectations.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the largest water and sewer agency in Washington's Maryland suburbs, reported that the average daily water use from Thursday through Sunday was 18 percent lower than the average daily consumption during the week leading up to Glendening's call for voluntary restrictions on July 29.
When he imposed mandatory statewide limits six days later, Glendening (D) said he hoped to reduce consumption by at least 10 percent, and yesterday his aides were encouraged that use has apparently declined by even more.
"We have to take a look at the figures, but if it's 18 percent, that's great," said Susan Woods, communications director for Maryland's Department of the Environment. "It shows people are doing their part."
Officials won't know until a meeting today of the governor's drought emergency coordinating committee whether the Baltimore area is matching Washington's Maryland suburbs in conserving water. Even if it is, they don't expect to lift restrictions. "We are upwards of a 20 percent deficit in rainfall," Woods said, "which means we would need about 20 inches of rain to get out of this. It would be foolhardy to lift limits at this point."
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the nation's governors in St. Louis, Glendening and Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) appealed to the federal government for more direct assistance to help drought-stricken farmers.
Glendening continued yesterday to fine-tune Maryland's restrictions, the first mandatory limits on water use in state history. The governor granted waivers to all Maryland public school districts so they can water athletic fields rendered rock hard by the drought. Under the exemption, school districts will be allowed to water athletic fields from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. with half the amount of water that normally is used.
Maryland's Department of the Environment also announced that new lawns laid down or seeded after July 1 but before Glendening issued statewide restrictions Aug. 4 may be hand-watered from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. until the lawn is established and growing.
Also, while the washing down of driveways and other paved surfaced remains prohibited, state officials are allowing businesses such as grocery stores to begin washing their loading docks and driveways if they are becoming a health hazard.
At the meeting of the National Governors' Association, Gilmore asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to declare Alleghany, Buckingham, Page, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties disaster areas so farmers there can qualify for low-interest federal loans. Gilmore estimated crop damage in those counties so far at $27 million. Last week, Glickman declared West Virginia and every neighboring county in Maryland and Virginia a disaster area, a region that includes Loudoun County.
Gilmore stopped short of calling for mandatory water restrictions, saying he is leaving those decisions to local officials on a case-by-case basis. Loudoun is the only Virginia county so far to impose mandatory water restrictions.
Glendening, Gilmore and governors from other mid-Atlantic states affected by the drought argued that traditional loans would only burden already debt-ridden farmers. They urged the White House to consider an assistance package modeled after the aid provided to flood-stricken midwestern farmers last year.
"Traditional loans are simply not working," Glendening said.
The governors said that loans would simply pile more debt on top of farmers who are already in debt and might have the effect of encouraging them to sell their farms.
Beyond the need for immediate assistance, the governors said the country needs a better system for anticipating or predicting drought conditions. They said that would give them more time to encourage voluntary water conservation and lessen the shortage of water, even if mandatory restrictions were necessary.
Yesterday Baltimore began drawing 50 million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna River, which supplies 40 percent of the fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore officials plan soon to draw 100 million gallons a day from the river, the maximum allowed by the state.
Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report from St. Louis.