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Town Government Eases Water Use Restrictions

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

The Town of Emmitsburg's water use has dropped dramatically since restrictions were implemented in March of this year, but one user's water consumption has gone up 73 percent. That has the town's officials highly irritated.

Town Manager Dave Haller told the board of commissioners about the excessive use of water by the St. Josephs Provincial House on South Seton Avenue at Tuesday's town meeting. He said that while the town's water usage has dropped nearly 100,000 gallons per day, the Provincial House's usage has increased by 33,595 gallons on average per day.

The Provincial House is a facility that houses around 200 people, including retired nuns, and provides care for both the nuns and laypeople. The facility also houses the National Shrine of Elizabeth Anne Seton and a retreat center.

The whole town, including the Provincial House, uses around 291,000 gallons per day. The Provincial House is using an average of 79,571 gallons per day, well over one quarter of the town's usage and equal to 249 residential homes, Haller said.

When the water restrictions were implemented in March, high-volume users (those users using 20,000 gallons per day on average or more) were required to drop their usage by 10 percent. Other high volume users have complied, most notably the National Fire Academy dropped its usage by 30 percent.

Haller said the Provincial House has been monitored everyday since March and it has exceeded its target usage everyday. Representatives at the house have been advised of the problems numerous times but there has been no change, he said.

Sister Vincentia Goeb, administrator of the Provincial House, said Tuesday that the house has been "trying very hard to limit water use" and understood why some people would be upset if they did not know the circumstances.

County officials advised the house about two months ago that they could no longer use their well water to cool the compressors for the air-conditioning and heating system at the facility, Goeb said.

"Consequently, it was not taken into account that if we stopped using well water, the town's water use would increase," she said.

Water usage for the air conditioning is about 50 percent of the facility's use, she said.

Goeb said the house's director of plant operations met with Haller, who told them town representatives would work with them on the problem.

Haller did not return phone calls to confirm the arrangements.

Despite the violation by the Provincial House, no penalty or fine will be or has been imposed because the language in the water use restrictions was too vague. The language did not define whether the fines would be issued daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly and did not clearly state how much the fines would be for large-volume users.

To remedy this problem, Monday's meeting included discussion regarding modifications to the water ban and clarification of the penalties for violating it.

After a great deal of discussion, the commissioners agreed to the following modifications:

  • The Laundromat can be opened seven days a week, instead of the three days it is currently permitted to be open.
  • Hand-held hoses may be used to wash down dog runs or animal hutches, and for cleaning cartridge pool filters, however they can still only be used between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. Hand-held hoses still may be used during those hours to water gardens and plants, but cannot be used to wash cars or to hose down siding, sidewalks or driveways.

All other restrictions remain the same as previously mandated in March.

Penalties for violating the water ban also were modified. For residential and other low-volume users, the first violation will receive a warning, the second violation will receive a $50 fine and the third violation (and each one thereafter) will receive a $75 fine.

High-volume users -- those using 20,000 gallons per day or more --will be charged twice the normal cost of the water for anything used in excess of their target average daily use.

For example, under the current water restrictions, high-volume users are required to use 10 percent less water than they used in March. If a high-volume user was using an average of 30,000 gallons per day in March, it is now required to use no more than 27,000 gallons per day. The 27,000 gallons is the target average daily use. For every gallon over the target amount, the user will be charged twice the going rate normally charged. The increase is intended to discourage high-volume users from exceeding their targets.

The new policies will go into effect on July 10, if the town's attorney has no problems with the modifications.

In other matters, the hearing dates for the annexation petition by Silver Fancy Farm Inc. were announced. The first hearing will be by the Frederick County Planning Commission on Wednesday, July 17, in Winchester Hall. The next hearing will be by the Frederick Board of County Commissioners at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 30, in the third-floor conference room of Winchester Hall. Emmitsburg town commissioners will hold a public hearing on the annexation petition at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 5, at the Sleep Inn at 501 Silo Hill Parkway. The change in location was made to allow more residents to attend. 

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