- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

Rainfall during the past month has relieved some dry areas, but the drought is still hanging around much of Maryland and regions near Washington.

"We need some rain, [but] we're not critical," said Ben Allnutt, a farmer in Poolesville.

Mr. Allnutt expressed gratitude for 5 inches that fell Memorial Day weekend, even though it contained crop-damaging hail. But farmers to the north through Frederick, Md., to Gettysburg, Pa., didn't get that much, he said.

"We're still a little cautious, because the dry months are ahead," said Jim Shell, who monitors water resources for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The region is still under a drought watch, the first notification stage of the region's water supply and drought plan, Mr. Shell said.

Recent rains that fell in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties in Western Maryland have restored them to normal water levels, but counties in central Maryland are still in a drought emergency, said Saeid Kasraei, director of the state environmental department's Water Supply Program.

"Statewide, we are about 9 inches below normal," Mr. Kasraei said, referring to annual average rainfall since September. "This is a critical month," he said. "It is so important that people don't forget about water conservation."

"There's really not much change," said Erik Hagen, a deputy director of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. "We're still looking at low groundwater. The rivers are low."

Yesterday's showers were typical of the scattershot nature of summer storms. Some areas got relief; others didn't.

The storms dumped 1.83 inches of rain at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport along the Potomac River, but Baltimore-Washington International Airport in central Maryland got only 0.37 inches and Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia measured 0.68 inches.

In declaring a drought emergency in April, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposed mandatory water-use restrictions in Cecil, Carroll, Harford, and Frederick counties, as well as in parts of Howard, Montgomery and Baltimore counties.

The part of Montgomery County under the drought emergency is not served by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which supplies water for residents mostly from the Potomac River.

In a pamphlet mailed with bills last month, WSSC assured customers that its reservoirs were nearly full, and that a water shortage was not anticipated.

"We do not at this point have any water shortage, but we are urging people to use water wisely," said WSSC spokesman Chuck Brown, adding that daily water usage is down about 15 million gallons from the 180 million gallons used daily in 2001.

The drought has hit other Eastern states this year, but the National Weather Service said "strong thunderstorms" on May 31 ended the drought in Maine, Connecticut, southern New York and northwest New Jersey. The drought persists from Long Island, N.Y., through southern New Jersey and into Maryland, according to the Weather Service.

Wells in central Maryland, which indicate water-table and groundwater levels, remain at near-record lows for this time of year, the Weather Service said.

Rainfall during the first two weeks of May lessened drought conditions in Virginia, said Terry Wagner, director of the state Office of Water Supply.

Those rains, which flooded southern Virginia, turned forests green and significantly reduced the potential for fires. The drought reduced hay crops, but the last dry weeks of May enabled farmers to plant crops that are sprouting normally.

Stream-flow rates and groundwater levels are at or near record lows, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It would take 18 to 33 inches of rain in the next four months to end the drought, USGS groundwater specialist Earl Greene said.

Accumulated precipitation for the year is still below normal in 21 of Maryland's 23 counties, according to the weather service. Although Western Maryland has improved, Southern Maryland has turned drier, and the state's central counties are 1.8 inches to 4.7 inches below normal for the year.

The city of Frederick tried a new tactic this week, erecting road signs at six major entrances to the city that read: "Warning: Drought Emergency. Conserve Water!"

"We have to get into the mind-set that water conservation isn't just for the summer, but that it has to be part of our daily routine," Mayor Jennifer Dougherty said.

She said the signs would deliver the message in a new way to people stuck in traffic on their way home from work.

"You beat the drum day after day, saying, 'Conserve water,' and they tend to turn that message off, so now we're giving them a visual," she said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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