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Officials prepare for drought

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

Several months of little rain across the region has officials preparing for a drought.

The western and eastern regions of Maryland are among the driest and nearing a drought "watch level,"Julie Oberg, a Maryland's Department of Environment spokeswoman said yesterday.

Wicomico County on Maryland's Eastern Shore has asked residents to curtail watering lawns, washing cars and other unnecessary uses of water. If residents comply, officials may not have to issue mandatory water restrictions in the near future, said County Executive Richard M. Pollitt Jr.

The amount of rain in the county so far this year is 7 inches below normal.

In the Potomac Water Basin, which serves the District and suburban Maryland and Virginia, is 8 inches below normal in June. So far in July, rainfall is nearly 2½ inches below normal.

Virginia is in a moderate drought from Loudoun County to the western border," said JimDecarufel, of the National Weather Service.

Jim Shell, of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said officials look at such factors as water supplies to determine whether a region has moved into a full drought condition.

Mr. Shell said officials also are monitoring conditions weekly and that they have a drought-response plan ready.

He said the plan would be implemented only after utility and government officials meet to learn about drought prospects and ways to combat it. Public notices would then be issued to conserve water.

The plan likely would expand o n a water-conservation program that the council has been conducting year-around for five years. It describes ways to save water, including watering lawns at night, sweeping — not hosing — sidewalks, and turning off faucets while brushing teeth.

"People like to have green lawns," Mr. Shell said.

The most recent area drought was in 1999. The Potomac River had dried to a small creek, and the Jennings Randolph Reservoir in West Virginia had to be opened for the first time.

Officials said the metropolitan region is not close to drought conditions because the 25-year-old reservoir is full with 13 billion gallons of water, and Little Seneca Reservoir in Montgomery County is full with 4 billion gallons.

The 1999 drought was the third-worst in the 20th century. The other two were in 1966 and 1930, which extended to 1933.

"That was the worst drought on record," Mr. Shell said. "I remember reading how a woman had to walk across the Potomac to get their cow."