Mount Airy sets example saving water

The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Department of the Environment is planning to use Mount Airy for a pilot study to see if its water-saving efforts this summer can be adopted throughout the state, according to John Grace, an MDE water supply division chief.

"They've made great strides," Grace said of Mount Airy.

Since Mount Airy enacted a mandatory outdoor water ban and distributed free reduced-flow fixtures and discounted rain barrels this summer, daily water use has dropped more than 100,000 gallons below the 855,000 gallons per day that the state currently permits, Mayor Frank M. Johnson said.

In the month of August, daily water use averaged 741,000 gallons per day, far less than the more than 800,000 gallons per day consumed in June and July, Johnson said.

"For the state, this is a little unusual: It got their attention," Johnson said. "There are so many things that we can do that do not involve a major change in lifestyle."

Both Grace and Johnson said Gov. Martin O'Malley's water resource advisory committee would be studying and looking to replicate Mount Airy's model. Substantial financial resources should be involved and announced in the coming weeks, Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Mount Airy's ban on outdoor sprinklers was scheduled to expire yesterday, Johnson said.

The town's conservation effort began with an aggressive campaign to repair leaks in the municipal system, Johnson said. He said the free, low-flow showerheads and faucet fixtures, toilet tank banks and subsidized rain barrels would remain available as long as town residents demonstrate a demand.

The program may also work to curb water use among Mount Airy businesses, such as restaurants and car washes, Johnson said.

"We can look at the numbers and see a difference," Johnson said. "They may even go down further after summer."

As the state zeroes in on Mount Airy's efforts, Carroll County is moving forward with its own water conservation plan.

The county Environmental Advisory Council just approved a list of recommendations calling for better incentives for voluntary water restriction, possibly through rebates for conservation or penalties for excessive use, to encourage more homeowners and businesses to conserve.

A countywide plan to limit the strain on Carroll's municipal water systems would support the principles of Smart Growth by limiting the expansion of well and septic development into the countryside, the Environmental Advisory Council's report said.

Such measures get heightened attention during summer droughts but drop off during the rainier seasons of the year, said Robyn Gilden, vice chair of the advisory committee and author of the report.

"The conservation mindset is more than thinking about things when it's an emergency," Gilden said. "Maybe we can head off some of the problems that occur during a drought."

The conservation recommendations will go before the county's water resources task force on Sept. 24 for articulating specific policies to present to the county commissioners for adoption.

Restructuring water rates in the county would more likely result in conservation than charging residents a fixed fee, which fails to penalize overuse, Gilden said. She said Westminster is currently reviewing its municipal water rates to develop a sliding scale of fees based on the amount a household or business consumes. Eliminating discounts for high-volume water users and charging higher unit prices for upper levels of water use could discourage waste, according to Gilden's report.

Such mechanisms would only apply to those on public systems, but private well users, who constitute about 40 percent of the county's population, should also be addressed, Gilden said.

The environmental council advises the county to work with developers to tie conservation measures, such as required low-flush toilets and waterless urinals, to revised building codes, Gilden added. Landscaping with native and drought-resistant plants is also stressed.

Though the Maryland Department of the Environment currently prohibits "gray water" systems that recycle wash water, Gilden said the county could work with the state to reconsider the technology.

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