- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

From combined dispatches

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening planned to announce mandatory water-conservation measures today to battle a dry spell, and Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner put the lingering drought on crisis footing yesterday alongside the state's record budget shortfall.

Water from the Jennings Randolph-Savage River reservoir system in Garrett County, Md., reached the Washington area yesterday, the same day Harford County officials held a news conference to call attention to dry farm ponds.

Mr. Glendening's office said the mandatory conservation measures were expected to include a lawn-watering ban in severely drought-stricken counties, such as those in central and eastern Maryland.

Despite thunderstorms that drenched parts of the state over the weekend, significant gains in groundwater supplies are unlikely until the fall and winter, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin said in a report.

The agency, which regulates reservoir releases into the Potomac, said yesterday was the 10th straight day of releases from the Jennings Randolph-Savage River reservoir system in Garrett County.

It usually takes eight to 10 days for that water to reach the nation's capital, said Erik Hagen, deputy director of cooperative water operations.

This is the first year since 1999 that the agency has tapped the Garrett County reservoirs and the Little Seneca Reservoir in Montgomery County to ensure an adequate supply of safe drinking water downstream.

Harford County officials visited a dry spring on a farm near Jarrettsville that typically feeds a tributary of Winter's Run, the main drinking-water source for Bel Air's 13,000 residents.

Bel Air is buying water from the county to supplement its supply, said Jim Richardson, director of Harford County's human resources office.

Mr. Richardson said 58 agricultural wells have gone dry this summer in the county, compared with one last year.

"The drought is not over," Mr. Richardson said. "We got a little bit of rain, but we need to conserve water."

Meanwhile, in Richmond, Mr. Warner said the drought was a crisis similar to the $1.5 billion deficit.

"The budget shortfall is a problem that we will grapple with for months to come, but for many people that's still something in Richmond and down the line," the Democratic governor said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The drought is a more immediate and acute problem for people than the revenue shortfall that will force state employee layoffs and agency cuts by year's end, he said.

"For a community like Orange, where businesses were closing and portable toilets were brought in, that affects an individual's day-to-day life," he said.

Mr. Warner appointed his deputy secretary of natural resources, David Paylor, yesterday to coordinate the administration's response to the drought.

A meeting of the State Drought Monitoring Task Force was hastily called for this afternoon to assess the rapidly worsening crisis and recommend solutions to the administration.

More than half the state is rated as being in a severe drought or worse. A swath stretching from Danville through Richmond and through the Northern Neck is rated as in an exceptional drought, the most serious designation.

Three largely rainless weeks that have included record heat in the mid-Atlantic have affected rural and urban interests.

"We've seen, since the beginning of August, almost no rainfall, and there's no indication that there will be any substantial improvement in Virginia anytime soon," Mr. Warner said.

Reservoirs are nearly dry in many parts of the state, and many communities have imposed mandatory limits on water use as lawns, gardens and even some trees have turned a lifeless khaki color after weeks without appreciable rainfall.

Farmers have seen crops wither with anticipated losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

In tidal areas of the Chesapeake Bay tributaries, the slow flow of fresh water has left water too brackish for farmers to use in irrigating crops.

"I'm not sure you can quantify what is most pressing," said Terry Wagner, chairman of the Drought Monitoring Task Force.

Mr. Warner ordered the Transportation Department and public safety agencies yesterday to inventory the Virginia's water storage and transportation equipment, and urged schools and institutional water consumers to use disposable dishes, cups and utensils to cut down on washing.

Mr. Warner also authorized the Department of Health to suspend some of the red tape facing people who apply to relocate water wells that go dry. From July 1 to Aug. 15, the state issued more than 2,200 well replacement permits, Miss Wagner said.

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