- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Strict water police and a bevy of neighborhood informants in Frederick aren't fooling around when it comes to punishing people who sneak out in the middle of the night to water their lawns or wash their cars.
In response to numerous tips from vigilant neighbors, code officers this week will use late-night stakeouts to catch residents who turn on the sprinklers or hoses under the cover of darkness, said Mike Blank, manager of the code enforcement office, which is responsible for policing the water restrictions.
The water rules are serious business in Frederick, where the drought threatens to dry up the water supply in about a month and leave the city's nearly 53,000 residents without flushing toilets or running faucets.
"We like to catch them red-handed," Mr. Blank said. "We don't like to do surveillance, but the public has to know that everyone is watching. Neighbors are watching neighbors."
Those caught in the act are usually ready with excuses, he said, the most common on being that they didn't know the extent of the ban.
"It doesn't necessarily wash with me," Mr. Blank said. "They get a $25 fine immediately. Excuses aren't accepted."
A month ago, when the city thought it had about 45 days worth of water left, Mr. Blank employed nighttime patrols and stakeouts to nab a couple of persons watering their lawns and shrubs. It was easy to know where to stake out, he said, neighbors ratted each other out, and the physical evidence was indisputable.
"The evidence would be that everyone else's lawns were dead or brown, but their lawns were a lush green. They were obvious," he said.
Tips about covert water use keep pouring into Mr. Blank's office, even though water use in Frederick this month was down 13 percent and news reports highlight the water crisis on a daily basis.
The stakeouts this week again will target people repeatedly fingered by neighborhood informants.
"We have received significant complaints about neighbors still washing their cars, still watering their shrubs and lawns. They are doing it early in the morning when they think nobody is watching," Mr. Blank said.
The city has received 375 tips since the restrictions took effect in April. In that time, police and code officers slapped 124 persons with the $25 ticket for a first offense. Only two received a $50 ticket for a second offense and had to pay a $100 fee to keep the city from shutting off their water.
The water rules in Frederick are the same as Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Democrat, imposed throughout most of Maryland: no exterior use of potable water, no washing cars or outdoor surfaces, no use of ornamental fountains, no filling or topping off pools or spas.
But in Frederick, where the drought has hit especially hard, the rules are more vigorously enforced than in most other places. They have to be tough, city officials say, because Frederick's water woes go beyond the drought.
Frederick's population jumped from about 40,000 to 52,767 in the last decade without a commensurate expansion of the water supply, leaving the city with just enough water to meet daily demand. The situation prompted the new mayor, Jennifer P. Dougherty, to impose a moratorium on new construction that has been in effect for the past seven months.
The building ban, however, wasn't enough to avert the pending crisis.
This summer's drought, which experts believe will become the drought of record for the Frederick area, sapped the city's already strained water supply from the Monocracy River and Lake Linganore reservoir. Now, Frederick is planning to truck in millions of gallons of water if it doesn't get a significant amount of rain.
The approximately 2 inches of rain that fell over the weekend bought Frederick a little more time. The expiration date for the city's water supply was pushed back from 30 says to about 35 days.
The National Weather Service yesterday gave Frederick only "a very small chance" of getting the amount of rain needed to replenish its water sources.
Meanwhile, Frederick isscrabbling to stretch the supply. The city has been frantically digging wells and will spend $1 million to connect them to the water system. The wells could deliver an extra 1 million gallons of water a day, but it is not clear if that will be enough to keep the water system flowing.
Frederick uses about 7 million gallons a day.
"There is going to come a point where we are all conserving as much as we can, but if we don't get some help from Mother Nature, we are still in the same situation," said City Hall spokeswoman Nancy Gregg Poss.


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