WASHINGTON – Weeks after the Department of Environment suggested that Gov. Robert Ehrlich lift water-use restrictions in Central Maryland, the move remains “under consideration.”
The department sent Ehrlich a memo in his first week in office suggesting he lift the restrictions since three of four drought indicators — stream flow, precipitation and ground water — were back at normal levels. Only reservoir levels in Central Maryland are below normal, said Richard McIntire, a Department of Environment spokesman.
Lifting the restrictions is under consideration, said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell, although he was not aware of any memos the governor had received on the subject.
“If a proposal has been sent to him, like all proposals sent to him he’ll give it the consideration it deserves,” Fawell said. But “he will only do so (lift restrictions) if he believes it’s in the best interest of the local communities.”
Former Gov. Parris Glendening reduced water restrictions in December from level two to level one, which places strict limits on watering grass, using automatic sprinklers, washing paved surfaces, operating ornamental fountains and washing cars.
At this time of year, the restrictions are probably not making much difference in actual water use. They are “more for the purpose of making people realize that even though it’s been raining, our storage isn’t where it should be,” said Ralph Cullison, chief of environmental services for the Baltimore Department of Public Works.
Some local officials said it is hard to tell if the restrictions are making any difference.
“Monitoring the effect of restrictions is difficult,” said Lt. John E. Markey, of the Frederick County Emergency Services Division. Markey, drought coordinator for Frederick County, said monitoring is difficult because much of the county is on wells instead of public water systems.
He did say that rain has helped water levels.
“Obviously with precipitation we’ve done well getting the surface water back up in most places,” Markey said.
Baltimore city’s three reservoirs, Loch Raven, Liberty and Prettyboy, should be at 83 percent capacity, but are only at 66.5 percent, said Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher. But that is “a lot better than where we were when we got to our low point” of around 41 percent in early October, Kocher said.
At this time last year, he said, the trend was downward, as reservoirs were at 58 percent capacity and falling.
“We’ve come up considerably but we’re still below where we should be,” Kocher said.
But even with recent precipitation and higher water levels, Cullison said the drought may not be completely over.
“We’re not necessarily out of the woods,” he said.
Cullison said restrictions would not be lifted until the reservoirs are at 80 percent capacity. “If we don’t get up to average storage for a given time of year we’re going to maintain restrictions,” he said.
Northern Montgomery County had been in severe drought until October and November rains, which helped bring the groundwater and the reservoirs back to normal levels, said David Lake, special assistant to the director for water supply. He said the county is no longer under drought conditions.
But Lake said that beneficial rainfall came as the last governor, Glendening, “was in the process of not being the governor anymore, so he didn’t really have it (removing the restrictions) as a priority.” He said he has heard nothing about lifting the water use restrictions from Ehrlich, but that Montgomery County is not concerned about wasting water.
“Because of the activities in Annapolis, we don’t depend on the state at this point when we know there’s not a problem” with water levels, he said. “We’re not telling people to do anything unusual.”