Drying Times: Beyond Water Cops and Prayer

The 10-day prayer vigil in Washington that started this week may bring 10 inches of rain to our region. In this case, if the good Lord is willing, the creeks might rise.

People also should be praying that government stops blaming them for the drought and starts looking at these drying times like something more than a second-rate disaster.

In Maryland and elsewhere, governments' common reaction to drought has been to criminalize watering. Homeowners, who have tomato plants that look like sagebrush, get blamed for being the victim. In New Jersey, they're even talking about monitoring water use inside the home. (We can imagine the water police knocking at the door. "M'am, our records show that you used three cans of water in that orange juice instead of two. And about those ice cubes ")

We don't disagree with everyone doing their part. What concerns us is shortsighted, haphazard planning as if drought were new to the planet.

According to experts, 10 to 15 percent of the nation suffers from severe drought every year while another 8 to 10 percent endures drought of moderate proportions. In the mid-Atlantic region, we call this the Drought of '99. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has watched our condition develop since 1996.

Nonetheless, government agencies plan cavalierly or not at all. Then they do little beyond point the finger at homeowners' lawns and impose short-term emergency rules.

We in the news media are guilty, too. We fail to explain the complexities of drought. We don't adequately investigate users of vast amounts of public water for private gain. We don't instruct people on long-term water conservation as we do with recycling or energy conservation.

If the drought is with us for the foreseeable future - and that's what we are being told - we think it's time to do things differently. Locally, that means deciding what role governments ought to play in planning for drought. It means thinking about water regionally along the Chesapeake Bay. It means talking about the future of water in the small area planning committees that are meeting right now. It means factoring water use into discussions about development and sprawl.

In short, we need more than governmental dictums to keep our sprinklers in their holsters. We need a full-throated public debate about how we in Chesapeake Country can adapt to drying times.

If we don't talk about drought? Our only hope will be water cops and prayer.

| Issue 33 |

Volume VII Number 33
August 19-25, 1999
New Bay Times

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