Residents in the northern, western and eastern corners of Montgomery County who are not supplied by the public water system are urged to minimize their water usage due to a drought watch issued this week by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
“Water conservation is a good practice year-round, but we are asking residents and businesses to pay particular attention during the summer months when the State can experience hot and dry conditions,” said Secretary of the Environment Serena McIlwain said in a news release.
“You can do your part by limiting the use and duration of sprinklers for lawns, taking short showers as opposed to baths, and not leaving the faucet running while brushing your teeth. These things sound simple, but it all adds up.”
Areas of the county that are not serviced by the public water system, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC Water), should reduce water usage, said Steven Shofar, the Intergovernmental Affairs Division chief at the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection. These areas include Barnesville and parts of Poolesville, Laytonsville and Brookeville.
This link will take you to a county map of water and sewer categories.
Shofar explained since October the county has seen less rainfall than average. On top of the cumulative lack of rain for the past six months, groundwater levels are already at their lowest during the summer months, he said.
As of this time, 100% of people in the county are affected by drought, according to a national drought monitor by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Drought Mitigation Center
“The deficit of rainfall really affects the groundwater [and] well levels. So, it really is dependent on how much rain we get. Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of rain,” Shofar said. “So, if we keep getting a lot of rain, then the drought watch would probably go away. But if we don’t get a lot of rain, or get less rain than we typically get, then the drought watch could continue.”
According to the state Department of the Environment, recent rainfall in the area is not expected to have a significant effect in reducing the precipitation deficit and water conservation measures are being encouraged to avoid future water shortages.
NOAA’s seasonal precipitation outlook predicts the north-eastern region should expect equal chances of above or below normal precipitation between July and September. A seasonal drought outlook has the region slated for an improvement of drought conditions.
Communities in the lower-density and rural areas of the county – typically situated in the northern, western and eastern corners – get their water from private, onsite wells, according to the county Department of Environmental Protection.
Across Maryland, Allegany, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard and Washington counties are also affected by the drought watch.
In June, the lack of rainfall in the region led to drinking water from WSSC Water’s Potomac Water Filtration Plant to have an earthy taste and smell. This was due to low water levels in the Potomac River, leading to high algal activity and an increase in a naturally occurring substance, Geosmin, according to WSSC Water.
Despite the poor taste and smell of the water, it was still safe for drinking and met all EPA Safe Drinking Water Act standards, a WSSC Water news release said.
Chuck Brown, a spokesperson for WSSC Water, said in an email to MoCo360 that WSSC Water service areas are not included in the drought watch due to water supply planning efforts, such as building several drinking water supply reservoirs along the Potomac River, which supplement water in drought conditions.
“WSSC Water stands with the state in asking our customers to conserve water,” Brown added. “In fact, year-round water conservation is a message we regularly convey to customers. It’s important to conserve this precious natural resource, and lower water usage also saves our customers’ money.”
Aside from reducing water usage, Shofar recommends county residents “hope that it rains a lot.” At this time, the state has enough water to meet the needs of residents and businesses, but no mandatory water use restrictions have been issued.