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Drought Brings Out Water Spies

Few residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey have read -- or can understand ? the new water restrictions and few authorities are enforcing them. So in communities across the region, sprinkler spies are ratting out their neighbors.

Officials in 14 area communities, including Philadelphia, say they have not issued any tickets for violating water restrictions. Some say they?ve issued verbal warnings. Some say it?s too early for much lawn watering. Others say that although they welcome information from neighbors, the tips don?t always pan out. "You have to be careful, because people sometimes have vendettas against each other," says Maryann Paradise, public-education officer for the Mount Laurel Municipal Utilities Authority.

In one case, a Mount Laurel resident called to say a neighbor was washing a car, which is not permitted in South Jersey. When officials responded to the scene, however, the ground wasn't even wet.

Even when the tip is valid, however, sometimes nothing gets done, says one South Jersey resident who tried to alert police about a neighbor who was watering his lawn. "They said I would have to file a complaint," she says. "Well, I'm their neighbor. Of course I'm not going to do that." The hot weather is making many residents think about swimming pools and lawn care. But the new rules boil down to this: You can't water your lawn, unless it's new sod or seed, and then only in the evening and early morning. Gardens can be watered, with certain restrictions. The question of filling pools is more complicated; in Pennsylvania, it is up to the local water company.

"We've had countless calls from people," said Tina Boor, business manager for the Horsham, PA Water and Sewer Authority. "Most people have been pretty understanding." In Horsham, filling pools is not allowed. Portions of Delaware County are the same. In New Jersey, you can "top off" pools that were partly drained for the winter, but empty pools can be filled only in certain situations. For instance, if new pools are not filled with water immediately, the plaster doesn't cure properly. Most swimmers must have the water trucked in, which costs at least $260, says Jeff Neamand, of AquaSun Pools in Doylestown, PA.

In March, New Jersey Gov. McGreevey called for reductions of up to 30 percent. Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, says water consumption is down about 5 percent. Pennsylvania does not track water usage, although Kristen Wolf, a Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, says, "anecdotally, we have heard some good numbers" from water companies.

In Philadelphia, officials say water use should not be restricted because there is plenty of water in the Delaware River and the Schuylkill. City officials said they are negotiating this with the state Department of Environmental Protection. In the meantime, restrictions remain in place for all of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Since the rules are so complex--2,545 words long in Pennsylvania; 3,961 in New Jersey-- Pennsylvania issued a news release that attempts to simplify the rules. It says, "If residents wash their vehicles at home, they should do so with buckets or by handheld hose equipped with an automatic shutoff nozzle for prerinse and rinse, not to exceed a total of two minutes spray time. Water use for vehicle washing is limited to odd street addresses on first and third [Saturdays] of the month, while people with even addresses or no street address can wash on the second and fourth [Saturdays] of the month."

Bob Wendelgass, Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action, says, ?My solution is that I just never wash my car.?

To learn more,click here.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says summer rains in the East will be too-little-too-late for local reservoirs. Ground water and stream flow levels are far below normal in most of the eastern seaboard. "The overall outlook for the East Coast continues to call for slow improvement, with the likelihood that some water shortages will persist into July," NOAA says.

In California and the Southwest, NOAA forecasts an intensifying drought without any significant improvement before August. This has set the stage for a dangerous fire season.

NOAA says the worst hit regions are from southern California to western New Mexico and northward into parts of Nevada, Utah and Colorado. "The fire danger in the Southwest is expected to be much above normal due to the low amounts of winter snowpack and precipitation," according to the federal agency.

In the Midwest, where farmers are beginning to plant this year's crop, NOAA forecast little danger of drought this summer.

A return of El Nino, a weather phenomenon blamed for droughts and devastating floods, could bring more rain to the northwestern and southeastern parts of the country. Forecasters say the United States could feel the effects of El Nino by mid-summer.

To learn why the weather is so crazy, read ?The Coming Global Superstorm? by Art Bell & Whitley Strieber, now only $9.95 for a hardcover autographed by Whitley, click here.

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