Maryland asks some residents to conserve water amid drought conditions

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The Maryland Department of the Environment is asking some residents in Western and Central Maryland to cut back on their water usage amid drought conditions.

The department issued a “drought watch” Monday for each of the counties touching Maryland’s border with Pennsylvania, based on lower-than-normal stream flows and groundwater levels.


Areas served by Baltimore’s water system and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission are excluded from the drought watch area because those systems have “ample supply of water, with reserves,” MDE spokesperson Jay Apperson said in a statement. Southern Maryland and most of the Eastern Shore also aren’t included.

For those in the impacted area, suggestions for curtailing water use include: reducing the use of lawn sprinklers and hoses, taking shorter showers, and operating washing machines and dishwashers only when they are full. MDE also recommends that homeowners consider installing water-efficient appliances such as showerheads and toilets.


“At this time, the State currently has enough water to meet the needs of residents and businesses, but water conservation measures are being encouraged to help avoid any future water shortages,” the department said in a news release.

So far, no mandatory water use restrictions have been issued, but the state has the power to require cutbacks if drought conditions reach emergency levels.

All three of the drinking water reservoirs operated by Baltimore City are at or near capacity, said Jennifer Combs, a spokesperson for Baltimore’s Department of Public Works, in a statement Tuesday. Liberty Reservoir is at 98% capacity; Loch Raven Reservoir is at 100% and Prettyboy Reservoir is at 96%. Together, those reservoirs serve 1.8 million people, Combs said.

MDE monitors precipitation, stream flow, groundwater levels and reservoir storage to decide when to issue a drought watch, Apperson said. If conditions decline below predetermined levels in two of the four categories, MDE issues a watch.

Measurements were showing drought watch-level conditions in late June, Apperson said, but officials expected that a period with very little rain was going to be followed by rainfall. Officials now expect that recent rainfall will not be enough to sufficiently reduce the precipitation deficit in the impacted areas, Apperson said.

As recorded at BWI Marshall Airport, June’s rainfall totals were slightly above the normal level. But precipitation during the spring months, from March through May, was well below normal. Just over 6 inches fell at the airport in those months, compared with 11.25 inches normally, according to the National Weather Service.

The period from January through May was Maryland’s fifth driest on record, and this May was the eighth driest, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.

According to the Drought Information System’s website, much of Central Maryland, including Baltimore and the Washington, D.C., suburbs, was experiencing D1 or “moderate” drought conditions as of last week (between June 28 and July 4).


But a pocket of territory, including northern Baltimore County, Carroll County and Howard County, was experiencing a “severe” D2 drought. The scale goes up to D4, which is considered an “exceptional drought.”

As of last week, the national system placed Maryland’s two westernmost counties, and a few sections of the Eastern Shore, at the least severe level, D0, indicating conditions were simply “abnormally dry.”