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Parched Mid-Atlantic imposes water restrictions

The states are coping with a drought that in Maryland's case is the worst in 70 years.

In drought-ravaged Maryland, retired teacher Starr Myklebust takes water from her kitchen sink and bathtub to tend to the potted hibiscus and geraniums on her backyard deck.

"When I rinse a real soapy pan, I put that to the side because I don't want to kill my plants," she said.

The Walkersville woman is coping with water use restrictions along with the rest of Maryland, facing its worst drought in 70 years. Maryland was the first state to impose statewide restrictions, but others in the parched Mid-Atlantic region were moving toward at least partial mandatory measures.

The drought has been worsened by a heat wave blamed for 279 deaths since July 19.

In Delaware, Gov. Thomas Carper on Thursday declared a drought emergency and mandatory water restrictions for two-thirds of the state's estimated 724,000 residents who live in the northern tip. Violators will be subject to fines from $50 to $500; Carper said residents failed to heed voluntary restrictions.

In New Jersey, Gov. Christie Whitman declared a drought emergency Thursday that allows the state to impose mandatory water restrictions and fines up to $1,000. The state's 13 reservoirs are at nearly 9 percent below normal capacity.

Maryland's statewide emergency restrictions, announced by Gov. Parris Glendening on Wednesday and enforceable by a $1,000 fine or six months in jail, shut down car washes and fountains.

Baltimore city officials prepared to tap the Susquehanna River to bolster dwindling water reserves while ordinary citizens tried to cope with a ban on most outdoor watering.

Mrs. Myklebust collects rain water that drains from her roof into bright blue plastic barrels.

Frederick car wash owner Diana Trossevin was grateful for the water recycling system that allowed her business to remain open. "We were crossing our fingers and toes."

Competitor Wade Manning doesn't recycle water at his car wash. His eight self-service bays were closed Thursday while Manning lobbied the mayor and City Council for an exemption for those able to prove extreme hardship.

"It's my sole source of income for myself and my family of three," he said.

On Thursday, Virginia Department of Health officials said more than 1-million dead fish found earlier this week at Captain's Cove near the Maryland border were the apparent victims of excessive heat that depleted oxygen in the water.

Along Baltimore's bustling Inner Harbor waterfront, a three-story outdoor waterfall and an indoor fountain were both turned off, revealing hardware and oxidized pennies.

The restrictions will mean a less-thorough cleaning for Oriole Stadium, which normally gets half its seating area washed after every game. Cleaners will use their pressure sprayers more judiciously to meet a 10 percent reduction in water use, said Edward Cline, deputy director of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

"We'll reduce our washing to sections of the stadium that have the most people," he said.

Late in the afternoon, Baltimore officials announced the city was preparing to draw 100-million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna, which it can do in emergencies.

The Brunswick Volunteer Fire Company also was seeking an exception for its biggest annual fundraiser, a "mud bog." The event, set for Aug. 29, requires 28,000 gallons of water to fill a 150-foot pit with 2 feet of mud for truck races.

Last year's contest brought in more than $12,000 for the company's new firehouse fund, secretary David Young said.

"If we didn't have that, the only other thing we have is bingo and a couple of karaoke nights," Young said.

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