Dry and diligent, a town in drought strains for relief
UPPER POTTSGROVE, PA.
MARY ELLEN MILLER is eating her lunch picnic-style with paper plates and cups. But she's not out under the oak and maple. She's in her kitchen where the three other members of her family are dining à la Chinette to save water normally used to wash dishes. So, too, is Lucky, the family dog.Skip to next paragraph
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"I call it camping in my own house," she says.
What's happening to Mrs. Miller and her family is being replayed up and down the East Coast as localized areas of the region cope with the worst winter drought since the 1930s.
Homeowners are busy fixing leaky faucets, putting off washing the family car, and, in thrifty moments like Miller's, choosing Styrofoam over stemware at the dinner table.
From Maine to Georgia, states and localities are forming task forces to figure out ways to encourage and force conservation. One familiar sight: the return of the dreaded water "police," who ticket people for overwatering lawns or otherwise turning on the tap too much.
Going into the spring, the water levels in some places are as much as 50 percent from where they normally are before summer starts to increase demand. The drought has been around for at least 18 months, but has deepened since September. "It's as if we missed out on a year of rain," says Frank Richards, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Washington.
The lack of water is particularly painful for those who use wells, because it can take some time for water to percolate up to the level where it can be pumped to the surface. In some cases, the underground aquifers aren't yielding much water at all.
Residents of Upper Pottsgrove can attest to that. Immediately after the state declared a drought emergency, the town of 4,102 declared its own, which is reinforced every seven days. "We wanted to have it in place in case there is financial assistance available," says David Paulsen, township manager.
The state and township restrictions mean that homeowners are not allowed to water their lawns, the little league field will turn brown and hard this summer, and the fairways at the Twin Ponds golf course may look more like they belong in Abu Dhabi. Most residents are resigned to dirty cars, and the township is asking people to hold off on filling their pools for the summer.
"June, July, and August could be killers for us," says Julie Lyn Gallisdorfer, a local commissioner.
She now has a garage loaded with water donated by Wal-Mart to help senior citizens, and she's asking other food stores and companies to pitch-in. "We have a lot of seniors on fixed incomes, and the state officials have to realize the municipalities are going to need assistance," she says.
A three traffic-light town
While fickle weather is largely to blame for the lack of water here, so, too, is growth. Upper Pottsgrove is a scenic bedroom community one hour from Philadelphia, where roads curve through wooded hills and ridges.
Houses built in the 1950s are sprinkled among newer subdivisions erected in the 1980s by developers who wanted to provide moderately-priced middle class housing. Residents are proud of a the Currier and Ives feel of the town, where they only have three traffic lights to navigate and where one of the restaurants is an inn dating back to the 1840s.