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Springs, streams start to run dry

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The springs have dried up in Mount Savage, and the people in the Allegany County mountain community may soon have to drive to Cumberland or Frostburg to do their laundry.

Like a growing number of places in Maryland and throughout the Northeast, Mount Savage is facing a serious water shortage as one of the hottest, driest summers on record nears its end.

Dan Williams, president of the Mount Savage Water Co., says all six springs that serve Mount Savage's 1,500 people have dried up, and its five 600- to 900-foot-deep wells are producing barely a third of their normal flow.

Residents already have been told to stop all outdoor water use. And "if the drought continues," Mr. Williams said, "within the next week, people will probably have to go out of town to do their laundry."

All of Maryland and much of the Northeast is experiencing severe to moderate drought conditions. Parts of the state received only a fraction of an inch of rain during all of August, after more than a year of below-normal rainfall.

Baltimore's reservoirs are nearly full, thanks to their large capacity and occasional storms early in the summer. No problems were reported in most of Harford or in Anne Arundel or Howard counties.

But declining stream flows elsewhere have left some local water companies in trouble.

"We're getting to a critical stage," said Daniel Dorlack, manager of the Maryland-American Water Co., which supplies water to 13,200 people in Bel Air.

The water comes from Winters Run, which has slowed to within a few hundred thousand gallons of the 6-million-gallon minimum daily flow needed to sustain both customers' use and the stream's "fish and frogs," Mr. Dorlack said.

"If we don't get any rain, in another week it's going to be critical," he said. If that happens, voluntary restrictions on outdoor watering, issued this week, will become mandatory, enforced by police.

Susquehanna restrictions

Elsewhere around the region this week:

* Water managers in Carroll County say customers have drawn more as the drought deepened, slowing some wells and depleting reserves. They have asked people to curtail usage. A ban on outdoor watering is being considered in Mount Airy.

* The Susquehanna River Basin Commission imposed water use restrictions on six industrial consumers. The commission is likely to issue a drought warning Sept. 14 calling for voluntary conservation throughout the basin, which extends south to Harford and Cecil counties.

* Recreation in the Susquehanna above Conowingo Dam was to be limited by low water this weekend as the Philadelphia Electric Co., which controls the dam, struggled to meet the water needs of nearby users.

* Delaware has issued a ban on outdoor burning. And Maryland's Department of Natural Resources stopped issuing open-burning permits for state-controlled forests on the Eastern Shore; it will consider a mandatory burning ban next week. Caroline, Charles and St. Mary's counties stopped issuing fire permits for nonforest lands.

Most Marylanders have felt the drought in their lawns and gardens.

In Dundalk, Stansbury Park community gardens chairman Clara Jablonski lamented, "I've tried growing peas, but it's practically impossible. Some of the gardeners have just thrown in the hat. It's just been an awful summer."

Drought conditions, measured by weekly rainfall, soil moisture and temperatures, prevail throughout the Northeastern United States.

Jeffrey Schultz, assistant climatologist at the Northeast Regional Climate Center, in Ithaca, N.Y., said severe to extreme drought conditions exist in parts of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and much of New England.

Only 0.18 inches of rain fell on New York City's Central Park in August, making it the driest on record there, Mr. Schultz said.

It was the second-driest summer on record at Scranton, Pa., Mr. Schultz said. Only 0.87 inches of rain fell in August.

Weather service forecaster Dick Diener, at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, said, "Salisbury reported 0.12 inches for the month." Easton had only 0.51 inches.

Baltimore, north central and Western Maryland are in "moderate" to "mild" drought.

At BWI, August rainfall totaled 2.98 inches, an inch below normal. All but 0.22 inches of that rain came from a remnant of Tropical Storm Erin, which watered parts of the state on Aug. 5 and 6.

In Washington, National Airport got just 0.88 inches of rain from Erin. And that was all for August, said Chris Strong, a weather service meteorologist in Sterling, Va.

Storms diverted

The dry weather has been caused by a persistent high pressure dTC system that settled in over the eastern Great Lakes in June, diverting rainstorms to the north or south like some kind of giant traffic cone.

Storms following the northern jet stream have been steered to the north of the high pressure, while tropical storms such as Felix and Jerry, approaching from the south or southeast, have bounced off to the east.

"All those things conspire against us and tend to initiate or perpetuate a drought," said Jim Wagner, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service's Climate Analysis Center in Camp Springs.

Relief, when it comes, will require a southward shift of the jet stream, or low pressure in the Appalachians or the Ohio Valley, which would open a path for a tropical system from the Gulf of Mexico.

Unfortunately, there is nothing like that in the forecast. And that worries members of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which includes public agencies from New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the federal government.

The Susquehanna provides half the fresh water entering the Chesapeake Bay. Flows are now one-third of normal, with portions at their lowest in 10 to 30 years.

That is likely to mean higher salinity in the Chesapeake Bay, which can encourage some oyster diseases. There is no word yet from scientists on how the bivalves are faring.

Thirty Pennsylvania water systems in the basin have issued water restrictions. They include two companies in Lancaster County, Pa. "So Maryland shouldn't feel too secure," said Paul Swartz, the basin commission's executive director.

Ground water levels in some communities are at five- to 10-year lows, Mr. Swartz said. "What we're seeing is stream flows starting to taper off, or level off, which means we're getting the base flow from ground water" rather than runoff. "So when that is being lost in stream flow, it will not be available for domestic and public water supplies."

Reservoirs in the basin are in "pretty good shape," he said. But "we are starting to see people putting greater demands on the reservoirs. . . . We are a little concerned about how quickly that capacity may be used."

Terry Clark, water rights manager for Maryland's Water Management Administration, said conditions in the Susquehanna basin can provide warnings for Maryland.

"I've noticed that droughts in the Susquehanna River basin tend to occur in the New York and Pennsylvania area first. And then they move down and occur in Western Pennsylvania and Maryland, usually a year later, which worries me about what will happen next year."

RECORD HEAT

Last month was the hottest August on record at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. And it capped the hottest summer since record-keeping at the airport began in 1950.

The National Weather Service reported yesterday that August temperatures averaged 80.1 degrees, shattering the old mark of 78.7 degrees set in 1968 and tied in 1980.

The average temperature for June, July and August was 78.8 degrees, besting the old summer record of 77.3 degrees, set in 1988 and tied in 1991.

The mercury topped 90 degrees on 43 days June through August.

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