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With reservoirs, wells and streams in Maryland at record lows for the season, Gov. Parris N. Glendening is preparing to declare a drought emergency in parts of the state and impose mandatory restrictions on water use.
"We are definitely moving toward a drought emergency," said Susan Woods, a spokeswoman for the governor. "The data [are] all there."
Eighteen Maryland counties are under drought watches and warnings that call for voluntary cuts in water consumption.
Glendening plans to meet next week with the water conservation advisory committee he established during the 1999 drought. They will discuss which regions of the state should be included in an emergency declaration, and what mandatory restrictions would be imposed, Woods said.
"The central portion of the state has some of the more serious drought indicators," she said. But the problems are not isolated there. "We could very well end up with emergency situations in other parts of the state later on."
Baltimore has just experienced the driest February, amid the fourth-driest winter, since record-keeping began in 1871. But the parched conditions extend well beyond the city.
Federal hydrologists report that the flow of water in Maryland streams has fallen below record lows set in the 1960s, and in some cases in the 1930s.
More than two-thirds of the 30 streams monitored in Maryland and Delaware, and seven of 17 wells, were at record lows by the end of last month, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The flow of fresh water into the Chesapeake Bay was just half of normal rates for February, and stream flow on the Potomac River was almost 24 percent below the previous record low for the month, set in 1934.
Water levels in Baltimore's reservoirs have dipped below the lows reached during the summertime drought in 1999. The city is drawing 40 percent of its water needs from the Susquehanna River.
Across Maryland, mandatory restrictions on water consumption have been imposed in 13 communities in Allegany, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick and Washington counties, according to the state Department of the Environment.
Bernie Rayno, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, in State College, Pa., said rainfall deficits accumulated since 1998 have exceeded 20 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
"It's very serious," Rayno said. "If we get into a stormy pattern, we could make up a lot of this deficit. But to make up all this deficit this year - it's probably not going to happen."