State lifts limits on water use; Drought still severe, Glendening cautions, urging conservation; 'No longer immediate crisis'; Critics again question ban; Susquehanna water remains in use


It's legal to water your lawn again.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday lifted the water use restrictions he ordered nearly a month ago, but said the state's persistent drought remains a problem and the public should continue voluntarily conserving water.

Glendening said he decided to lift the restrictions -- the first ever imposed in Maryland's history -- because "we no longer face an immediate crisis." He said recent heavy rains and cutbacks in water use by homeowners and businesses over the past four weeks have raised water supplies to more comfortable levels.

His action leaves residents free to water lawns, fill pools and wash their cars and allows golf courses, landscapers and other businesses to return to their routines.

The restrictions Glendening imposed on Aug. 4 have been controversial.

Environmentalists praised the governor for taking decisive action, but critics questioned whether statewide restrictions were warranted. And some businesses complained the water ban was hurting them economically.

Glendening's decision to lift the water ban followed a meeting yesterday of the task force he appointed to advise him on drought issues. The panel recommended lifting the mandatory restrictions and asking for voluntary conservation instead.

The task force was told that Maryland's rainfall deficit dropped two inches because of unusually heavy rains last week and that river flows and reservoir levels were up around the state.

"We have no guarantee that this will continue, but certainly we're in a better situation than we were a month ago," said J. L. Hearn, the Maryland Department of the Environment's water management director.

The governor accepted the group's recommendation that a ban on open-air fires in four Western Maryland counties remain in effect, and that Baltimore continue to draw water from the Susquehanna River to replenish reservoirs serving the metro area.

Baltimore Public Works Director George G. Balog said the city's three reservoirs are at 53 percent of capacity now. That's up from 51 percent a month ago, but still about 10 percent less than is normal for this time of year.

The city plans to keep drawing about 100 million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna through at least November, he said.

The use of Susquehanna River water has provoked complaints from consumers who say the river water does not taste as good as that drawn from Baltimore's reservoirs.

The governor said the task force will continue to monitor rainfall amounts, reservoir levels and stream flows and that mandatory restrictions could be reimposed in some parts of the state if circumstances warrant.

Glendening commended citizens for their cooperation with the restrictions.

"We would not be lifting these restrictions without Marylanders everywhere curtailing their water use," he said.

He said the drought pointed out the need for greater regional cooperation on water issues.

"Water doesn't recognize any state lines or county lines or many other man-made boundaries," he said.

Some business owners said that they were happy the restrictions were lifted, but that they remain angry over the abrupt decision to impose them statewide.

Harry Redmon, owner of a landscaping company and garden center in Anne Arundel County, said his business and many like it saw their revenues drop by 40 percent or more while the restrictions were in place. People shied away from buying plants, and few were interested in new lawns that they could not water.

"Yes I'm angry," Redmon said. "I think it was a huge mistake. If you're going to put in a government mandate that's going to hurt people's business, you should spend a little more time looking at it."

Glendening's handling of water restrictions also was sharply criticized by R. John Shields, president of the Maryland Golf Course Owners Association. Golf courses were turned down in their requests for waivers from the governor's order.

"It was our opinion all along that, on a statewide basis, this was not necessary," he said.

Shields said he believes politics motivated Glendening to impose the restrictions. He said Glendening had his eye on his next political job, possibly as part of an Al Gore administration in Washington.

"He painted himself green politically and he's happy, so I guess that's what's important," Shields said.

But Mary P. Marsh, legislative chairwoman for the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the governor deserves praise for his actions.

"We were very proud that he stood strong and met this emergency, because it was an emergency," Marsh said. "At the rate we were using water, we were going to be running out and there was no real end in sight to the drought."

The governor dismissed suggestions that he imposed the restrictions for political reasons. "One of the great things about being a second-term governor with term limitations is you're somewhat free of political considerations," he said.

Glendening said that if he had not imposed restrictions when he did and if the dry weather had continued, water reserves would be at dangerously low levels.

"We did what was necessary to head off a potential disaster," he said.

The governor urged continued voluntary conservation measures, but said he expects to see a spurt in water consumption over the next day or two as Marylanders wash dirty cars and water parched lawns.

Asked about his own losses during the drought, Glendening put the toll at "2 1/2 azaleas."

Pub Date: 9/02/99

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