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Greener grass, cooler temperatures and crisp autumn air.

Surely the city's water shortage must be ancient history.

Guess again.

"The word needs to get out that we're still undergoing a crisis," said William S. Mowell, director of the city Department of Public Works.

Months of scant rainfall created drought conditions and severely depleted Westminster's water supply over the summer, prompting the City Council to enact an emergency water-conservation measure Aug. 3.

But although the ban remains in effect, city officials are worried that recent rain and cooler temperatures have ledresidents to as

sume that the drought -- or the water ban -- is athing of the past.

"The drought is not over," Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said at Monday's council meeting at the Westminster Volunteer Fire Company on East Main Street.

"We're in the middle of a very serious drought," the mayor said.

Rainfall for the area is 9 inches below normal for the year to date, Brown said, adding that the region has received lower than normal amounts of precipitation for six consecutive months.

The ban prohibits residents from watering lawns andgardens or filling swimming pools during daylight hours.

Westminster businesses are exempt from the ban but are encouraged to refrain from such auxiliary uses as watering office grounds.

The worries city officials have about growing disregard for water conservation arenot without basis.

Early on, the measure was termed a success.

Daily water use in the city dropped by about 5 percent, from an average of about 2 million gallons.

However, recent figures show that daily consumption has again crept above the 2 million-gallon mark, sparking concern among city administrators.

"It's an indication thatpeople are using more water," Mowell said.

So once again, city officials find themselves appealing to residents to try to cut back on water use.

"Our customers' conservation efforts will help tremendously," Mowell said.

The ban will remain in effect at least until the city's reservoir is about 75 percent full, Mowell said. Right now,the 122 million-gallon reservoir is about half full.

People who violate the ban face a $25 fine. Although no one has been fined, city code enforcers have handed out 59 warnings, City Planning Director Thomas Beyard said.

In addition to a written warning, first-time offenders also are given information about the ban and water conservation, Beyard said, adding that most people who received warnings said they weren't aware of the ban. No one who has been warned has been cited a second time.

"So far, people have been very willing to cooperate," Beyard said.

After a rainfall, the city typically receives calls asking whether the ban will be lifted, Mowell said. Lawns tend tobe greener this time of year, leading some people to conclude that ground water sources have been adequately recharged.

But that's notnecessarily the case.

"That's more a function of cool-season grasses and dew than a rise in soil moisture," Mowell said of lush-looking lawns. "The ground's bone dry."

How much longer before the reservoir is 75 percent full?

"That depends on Mother Nature," Mowell said.

"What we need is couple more nice, steady rains."

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