Drought watch: Why some Marylanders are being urged to take shorter showers

Residents in parts of Maryland are now under a drought watch and are being encouraged by the state to cap their water use.

“Water conservation is a good practice year-round,” said Jay Apperson, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of the Environment. “Right now, the Maryland Department of the Environment is urging citizens and business in western Maryland and portions of central Maryland to voluntarily reduce their water usage.”

It’s not mandatory, but Apperson said these cutbacks would be a huge help.

“We’re particularly concerned about groundwater levels,” he told WTOP.

The watch has been issued for Allegany, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Washington counties. But there are some exceptions.

Areas served by Baltimore City or Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission public water systems are not considered to be under the same watch conditions.

In Montgomery County, it is the second driest year to date and it was the fifth driest May on record this year.

The state said it has enough water to meet the needs of residents and businesses, but the conservation measures are being encouraged to help avoid future shortages that could potentially materialize — if current conditions continue.

“You may have noticed there’s been some rain lately, but that’s not enough to reduce the deficit in precipitation we’ve seen,” Apperson explained, noting that up to this point, rainfall has been much less compared to this time last year.

How can people in affected areas change their behaviors to help?

“Use sprinklers or water your lawn and garden less frequently,” Apperson said. “Take shorter showers.”

He also suggests only running the dishwasher and laundry machines when they’re absolutely full/at capacity, rather than doing several small loads of laundry or dishes.

The last time rainfall levels were dangerously low, according to the state’s current conditions and drought information website, was 2017-2018, when southern Maryland was considered to be in emergency conditions.

A map monitoring drought condition in Maryland. (Courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor)

The last severe drought in the state occurred between 1999 and 2002.

Per the state’s updated drought map, nearly 37% of the state is considered to be in a moderate drought right now, with another 30.4% designated as “abnormally dry.”

The state’s precipitation indicators show western and central Maryland at 75% and 70% of their normal rainfall since Dec. 31, respectively, compared to previous years.

Groundwater indicators show low levels in both western and central Maryland, with five out of nine wells at “warning” levels, and two out of nine wells considered to be at “emergency” low-water levels.

It’s not all bad though. Since June 30, rainfall levels have been way up, at 90% or more of normal levels. If those conditions continue, the watch may be lifted sooner than later.

But the National Weather Service said nationwide drought conditions will likely last through 2023, with some improvements being made recently due to increased rainfall.

Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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