Floyd fails to douse water bans; Hurricane helped reservoir recover, but not enough; 'We still need to conserve'; Restrictions likely to continue for another month


Hurricane Floyd dumped nearly 5 inches of rain on the county last week, helping add 1.3 billion gallons to the Liberty Reservoir, but the storm could not muster enough power to eradicate summerlong bans.

The reservoir is down by about 24 feet and at 60 percent of its 43 billion-gallon capacity. At the height of the drought, capacity dipped to about 50 percent. Normal capacity this time of year is 65 percent.

From Eldersburg and Sykesville to Mount Airy, residents have been coping for more than three months with bans on car washing and lawn sprinkling.

The county imposed a ban June 1 for the nearly 6,700 homes and businesses in South Carroll, all served by the Freedom water system, which draws from Liberty Reservoir. The ban was later relaxed to allow outdoor use on alternating days, depending on address.

Mount Airy also imposed a total ban June 11 and has not amended it. So 5,800 residents will keep the sprinklers in storage at least until a new well -- the town's eighth -- begins operation, possibly within the next few weeks.

"We have a full ban, and we will not take the ban off until we have the new well," said Councilman R. Delaine Hobbs.

Rains from Floyd and Dennis have replenished ground water and helped return parched lawns to a healthy green. Those who make the decisions about water use see a difference.

Wayne Lewns, county utilities bureau chief, has mowed the lawn at his Walkersville home three times in the past seven days.

"It is not that bad in the spring," Lewns said. "There is really no need to be watering grass right now."

Restrictions should stay in place for about a month, he said.

"People continue to conserve, but we still need to conserve," Lewns said. "Had I gone to the commissioners today, I would have recommended we leave the ban on a little longer."

The county commissioners canceled a meeting with Lewns yesterday and rescheduled it for Sept. 28. Lewns will recommend the ban remain through Oct. 20 for all those who rely on the public water system in South Carroll.

"That is only four weeks," Lewns said. "That is not asking for much. People have done really well so far. We hope they can continue with this trend."

The Freedom Water Treatment Plant can process 3 million gallons of water daily, but constantly operating at that capacity severely stresses 30-year-old equipment. With the ban, usage has dropped to a more manageable 2.2 million gallons a day, Lewns said.

"There has definitely been a relaxing at the plant," but not enough to relax the ban, he said.

Mount Airy's newest well, under construction on Buffalo Road, could pump as much as 200,000 gallons a minute into the town system and ease the water shortage.

"We expect the well soon, but then we have been expecting it for several months," said Mayor Gerald Johnson. "Once it comes on line, we will determine the status of the ban."

The mayor has had frequent complaints from residents "who basically understand why we have the ban, but wonder why building is still going on here," he said. The developers of two new subdivisions are building the eighth well.

The town can handle an average daily use of 500,000 gallons, but the spikes in demand played havoc with the system, Johnson said. In May, calls for voluntary conservation went unheeded.

He hopes residents will remember the lessons of the drought, which created the worst water shortage in 70 years.

"The grass and shrubs have survived," he said. "But people get so impatient. I am afraid for many the drought will have no impact and they will return to using the same amounts of water."

Craig Grabowsky, a Main Street resident, has asked town officials to plan for next year.

"This year we waited and then went from everybody-do-everything to a total ban," Grabowsky said. "That was fine for this year; the damage is done. But let's use all the information we have and do something with it next year. If you call for moderation and alternate the ban, 99 percent of the people will do what is right."

Pub Date: 9/21/99

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