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County Comment/ Health Department Report Spotlights Drought, West Nile

by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

In its October 15 meeting, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners heard from Health Officials on drought-related issues.
Washington County Health Officer Bill Christoffel and Environmental Health Officer Laurie Bucher discussed the county burn ban, an update on drought conditions, and the current state of West Nile Virus cases.
Due to the drought, the county issued a burn ban several weeks ago. Because of recent rains and due to requests from the nine commercial campgrounds in the county, the ban has been modified to allow controlled campfires within “fire rings” at those campgrounds. The burn ban on other open fires remains in effect and, in fact, the State Park system has posted a ban on all open fires in those parks. Commissioners’ President Snook said that a report should be given to the Board at the first meeting of each month on status of the drought.
Bucher told the Board that the Maryland Department of the Environment has separated Washington County from the other counties in Western Maryland, and, as of the 15th, had designated the area from Fairview Mountain eastward as being in “Emergency Drought” status. The week’s rains deposited 1.27 inches of precipitation between Tuesday night and Wednesday, October 16, and 2.34" had been measured for October by that date. The County’s Drought Advisory Committee has said that although the rains have been welcome, they have not alleviated the problems in areas served by wells.
In order to get a better picture of the situation, Earl Green, a Hydrologist representing the U.S. Geological Survey will give a report to the Board on October 29 regarding the water table, Karst Topography and a “Water Budget” for the county. The Washington County Planning Department has also imposed a hydrology review requirement on new subdivision site plans.
Previous studies of ground water in the county conducted in the 1980s focused on water quality and not quantity, and if drought conditions persist voluntary water restrictions may be required in those areas of the county not served by municipal water systems.
Environmental Health Officer Bucher told the Board that the West Nile Virus season is winding down due to colder weather, and that recent tests of five “Mosquito Pools” were all negative, with no larva found. Work is taking place with the Department of Natural Resources regarding standing water at the C&O Canal for future preventative programs.
In all there were 33 birds, 2 horses and 1 human being in Washington County that tested positive for the virus. Over 7400 used tires, prime mosquito breeding grounds, were taken in during “Tire Amnesty Day” held recently by the County Solid Waste Department, Christoffel said.

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