EDITORIAL: Conservation is everyone’s responsibility

   It may only be the spring, but it feels like summer is already here. Winter felt a lot like spring and this week was hot, with temperatures reaching into the 90s.
   The weather may put many in mind of summer, with visions of swimming pools, sprinklers and car washes. But don’t jump into summer fun feet first. This year we must be more responsible when it comes to water use, especially if we want to make sure our wells and reservoirs are filled and that we have enough water for emergencies.
   With reservoirs throughout the state at below-normal levels and stream-flow levels declining, Gov. James E. McGreevey declared a statewide drought emergency March 4. The action allows the state Department of Environmental Protection to institute mandatory water restrictions and conservation measures.
   The restrictions include prohibitions on washing cars at places other than commercial car washes, on serving water in restaurants unless it’s requested, on ornamental water use and on water for outdoor recreational purposes, requirements that homeowners follow an "odd-even" schedule of watering lawns — watering can occur on even-numbered days on the side of the street with even-numbered street addresses and vice versa — and restrictions on filling swimming pools.
   These restrictions are necessary, but may not be enough. According to Dave Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist at Rutgers University, 10 inches of rain fell statewide over the past six months, 12 inches below normal. He also said the past six months have been the driest on record in the last century.
   In addition, we need about 2 more inches of rain every week for the next month or so to even be close to average rainfall totals. When was the last time we got that much rain?
   According to the DEP, the drought emergency was issued only after a Jan. 24 drought warning that asked residents to voluntarily curtail water use failed to maintain adequate water levels.
   Now that we’re in a situation where we don’t have any choice but to conserve, we should take it upon ourselves to try again and voluntarily take the restrictions one step further before things get worse.
   For instance, state restrictions say residents can water their lawns three or four times a week. That’s a lot. Try watering your lawn once a week or, better yet, not at all. You won’t be alone since Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties, and parts of Hunterdon, Mercer, and Morris counties, are the only areas in the state where watering a lawn is not prohibited.
   And before you start worrying that your lawn will die without frequent soakings, consider this. According to the state’s drought Web site, www.njdrought.org, most lawns turn brown if not watered not because they have died, but because the plants go dormant. This enables the roots to survive for a long time, and the green color will be quickly re-established when watering begins again.
   There also are the little things we should be doing anyway, like turning the water off while brushing our teeth or shaving, using water from the dehumidifier for plants, not letting the water run while doing the dishes and taking shorter showers.
   These may be small acts, and some may be inconvenient, but they will add up.
   They also will be needed in the long, hot months ahead if we want to make sure we have enough water.