Thursday, April 20, 2006

Local officials who keep a close eye on the weather foresee a reasonable amount of rainfall in the near future, welcome news following the driest March on record.

“Actually, conditions have improved in the last couple weeks,” said Jim Shell, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The five-hundredths of an inch of rain in the Districtlast month was a record low, and National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Guyer predicted that the rainfall for April “will be below normal,” but not rated as a true drought.

“Technically, it’s not considered a drought,” Mr. Guyer said.

Drought or not, the slack rainfall has resulted in bans on open-air burning in forests and in the Maryland and Virginia countryside.

The ban in all Maryland counties except Garrett was imposed after learning that the state had received less than 25 percent of average precipitation for March. Maryland Forest Service said it responded to 366 wildfires, nearly triple the 20-year average for last month.

In Virginia, the Department of Forestry continues its open-burning ban for the rest of April.

Even if a drought was predictably forthcoming, meteorologists and water-resource officials in the D.C. metropolitan area say more than sufficient water supplies are available.

The Potomac River, which provides most water for the region, is flowing a daily average of 7 billion gallons at Little Falls, said Curtis Dalpra, public information officer for the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. That’s plenty for residents and businesses, which use about 377 million gallons daily from the Potomac, and both the Little Seneca and Jennings Randolph reservoirs are full, in case the Potomac supply decreases, Mr. Dalpra said.

But lack of precipitation is not the reason most outdoor water will be scarce this summer in Howard County and northern Anne Arundel County in Maryland.

A weakened 54-inch water main running from Baltimore City south to the Howard and Anne Arundel boundaries was shut down in January, and installation of the new main is expected to continue into September.

As a result, about 350,000 customers have been ordered to reduce water usage, especially outdoors.

The damaged water main is about 30 years old and is being replaced by a pipe of more resistant materials.

“The extent of this damage requires the complete shut down of the pipeline during its repair,” said Howard County Public Works Director Jim Irvin.

About 200,000 northern Anne Arundel water users have been getting their daily needs from other sources since January, according to Pam Jordan, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

Beginning May 1, about 150,000 Howard County users will be limited by their street addresses. Those with even-numbered addresses will be allowed to use water outdoors on even-numbered calendar days. Residents with odd-numbered addresses can use outdoor water on odd-numbered days.

Outdoor use that is prohibited includes watering lawns, washing paved surfaces such as driveways and tennis courts, using sprinklers and garden irrigation, outdoor waterfalls and reflective pools, and filling up swimming pools.

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