Gov. Parris N. Glendening has lifted the watering ban in Maryland, but no one has canceled the drought.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported yesterday that the stream flows that surged in parts of Maryland after last week's cloudbursts are dropping back to levels that prevailed before the storms.
The heavy rains also had little effect on the state's ground water levels, which continue to drop, the agency said.
"The rivers are clearly returning to where they were before the rains hit," said USGS spokesman Gary Fisher. "And that's a statewide thing."
Asked whether the watering ban was lifted too soon, Fisher said, "It's not our place to have an opinion. The governor did make it very clear that we are still in a drought emergency."
John Verrico, a spokesman for the state Department of the Environment, said there is still a need for residents to conserve water.
The governor acted after three days of heavy rains improved stream flows and combined with the effects of the watering ban to raise reservoir levels a bit. The cloudbursts also pushed the region's 12-month rainfall deficit below 10 inches.
"We were really looking at that 10 inches as a magic number," Verrico said. Even though the statewide bans are lifted, he said, "some areas need to take a really good look at their water situation and whether they should institute local mandatory water restrictions."
The USGS said the benefits of last week's rains were short-lived. Flow rates in the Potomac River surged after the rains to 1.9 billion gallons a day on Aug. 26. That was well above the near-record low of 0.9 billion gallons the river had averaged in August. But it was still below the 2.2 billion gallons a day that stands as the long-term average for the month.
By yesterday morning, the Potomac's flow had slipped back to 1.2 billion gallons.
Baltimore's reservoirs rose slightly as stream flow picked up. Loch Raven was up 2 percent after the rains. Liberty was up 1 percent, and Prettyboy was unchanged. The water in storage is still 10 percent below normal for late summer.
Harford County officials said that Winters Run and Deer Creek, which supply drinking water to portions of the county, remain at low levels. They urged residents to continue their water conservation efforts even though the statewide ban has been lifted.
Geologists say stream flows will not increase reliably until sufficient rainfall occurs to raise ground water levels because ground water furnishes the bulk of the water in streams between the big rainstorms.
"We still urge that people continue to do voluntary conservation," Verrico said. "We're certainly not out of trouble."