Baltimore Officials Consider Mandatory Curbs on City Water Use
With water levels falling in Baltimore's drought-depleted reservoirs, the voluntary water conservation efforts the city has urged on customers since January may no longer be enough.
The city's water managers say they are "seriously considering" imposing mandatory curbs on water consumption.
"Voluntary conservation helped us early on. But with the continued heat and dry weather, we have not achieved the goals we were seeking," said city Public Works Director George L. Winfield, in a statement read by DPW spokesman Kurt L. Kocher.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening imposed mandatory bans on watering lawns, washing cars and hosing down sidewalks in April on much of Central Maryland. Several communities in Carroll and Frederick counties had imposed bans weeks or months earlier.
However, the mandatory bans did not extend to the region served by the Baltimore water system -- that includes parts of Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
Kocher said Baltimore is not quite ready to fall in line. The city is continuing to ask water customers to refrain from watering their grass or washing their cars; to use commercial car washes that recycle; to run washers when they are full; and to fix leaky plumbing.
"In any jurisdiction, if you can avoid making something inconvenient, you avoid it," he said. "You only do that when you feel it absolutely has become a necessity."
The nice-guy approach is cutting consumption by an estimated 5 million to 6 million gallons a day, Kocher said. "I haven't seen people wasting water," he said.
But it has not been enough. "With the reservoirs still being tapped at the rate they are, with the [supply] being down to 55 percent [of capacity], that is of great concern to us," he said. "So we have to emphasize once again the need for voluntary conservation efforts and, as the director noted, we are seriously considering mandatory restrictions."
Loch Raven Reservoir was three-quarters full yesterday. Liberty Reservoir was half-empty and Prettyboy Reservoir was down more than 30 feet, holding a third of its capacity.
"We need a monsoon to come up here, or a hurricane," said Duke Nohe, an angler who has fished Prettyboy for 45 years. He is also president of the Maryland Aquatic Resource Coalition.
"It's dropping about 6 inches a day," he said, and getting boats to the receding waterline is a problem. "Small boats can get out, canoes and that. But it's tough for guys trying to get big boats out. They're going to get stuck."
The city has been able to keep its commitment to maintain the trout fishery below the Prettyboy dam. The pact requires the release of at least 11 cubic feet of water a second from the dam.
"Right now we're good," said Charlie Gougeon, regional fisheries biologist for the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service. "But we've been in a guarded status since very early spring when we weren't getting the rain. We were sweating it back then, and now we're in a time when we should really be sweating it.
"It would be prudent to issue mandatory water restrictions," he said. "We need people to step up to the plate."
Kocher said that in addition to water levels and consumption rates, managers are watching the fish habitat, long-term weather forecasts, and the availability of water in the Susquehanna River.