The weather has been lovely in the Northeast this spring. And that's just the problem for parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. There has been plenty of warm weather to shake off the winter chills. The muggy season has not arrived, and the usual spring thunderstorms have been sparse.
Although early May rains added several inches to low reservoirs that supply the densely populated area, it has not been enough to stave off the worrisome drought situation.
In New Jersey yesterday, mandatory water rationing in the northeastern part of the state was announced by Gov. Thomas H. Kean. That means some 2.3 million people in 93 communities in parts of six counties will be restricted to 50 gallons of water a day per person.
And the governor expanded the drought emergency in effect in northeast New Jersey to the rest of the state. Outdoor water restrictions in 120 cities in the Delaware River Basin will be put into effect, and the rest of the state will be encouraged to voluntarily conserve water.
``I've been through three drought emergencies, and this is the worst one,'' says Frederick Bostel, superintendent of water and sewers in Elizabeth, N.J.
Right now the main effort is to cut down residential use as much as possible, to mitigate restrictions on water to employers in the state, says Paul Wolcott, a press aide to Governor Kean.
``There are many more options for residents . . . ,'' says Mr. Wolcott. ``You don't need to take a 20-minute shower in the morning or run the faucet while doing dishes. . . . There are fewer options available for businesses and manufacturers.''
There is concern that the drought will be more than a summer problem. Reservoirs in the Delaware River Basin Commission area, which supplies water to parts of the four states, are only about 60 percent full. Normally they are at capacity now. The commission declared a drought emergency on Monday.
If summer and fall weather is dry, and the situation does not improve by November, Mr. Bostel says, industries in his area may have to shut down.
The problem is severest for those communities dependent on surface water. Aside from water shortages, towns near the ocean or along rivers may find ``saltwater incursion'' in their drinking supply, says Wolcott. As water flow to the ocean slows, saltwater creeps upriver. Camden, N.J., had such water contamination during a drought in the 1960s.
In Elizabeth, which abuts Newark, there will be spot checks of water meters, and extra fees will be charged for water used over the limit. Apartment buildings will be expected to reduce water by 33 percent, Bostel says, and factories by 25 percent. Money collected from surcharges will be put in a special state fund to improve water systems, he adds.
In New York City, where there is also a water emergency in effect, fountains have been turned off, use of water hoses is banned, and restaurants are not supposed to serve water unless the customer asks.
Operation Greenthumb, the city's urban-gardening program, will hold a workshop today in Harlem on ways to recycle water for city gardens.
``Often the food grown in these gardens supplements the diets of the families,'' says Jane Weissman, director of Greenthumb, which leases city land in low- and middle-income neighborhoods.
She points out that dish water, laundry water, coffee and tea, and water used to steam or boil vegetables can be used in the gardens, many of which already have rain barrels. She also advises residents to stick a bucket in the shower while waiting for the water to get to the right temperature. ``If you are smart, you can collect four to five gallons a day of water to recycle,'' she estimates.