Local water supply okay in face of statewide drought

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 25, 2007

While weeks of torrential rainfall has left towns, roads and farms underwater in Midwestern states, North Carolina is experiencing one of its worst droughts in over 60 years.

That fact prompted North Carolina Governor Mike Easley on Thursday to direct state agencies in all 100 counties stop non-essential water use as the drought has spread statewide. In addition, the governor is asking all citizens to cut back their water consumption 20 percent since the drought is not expected to let up anytime soon.

“Stream flows and groundwater levels are approaching their lowest levels in recorded history and many of our reservoirs are declining by one foot every 10 days,” said Easley. “We all must conserve if we are to, in any way, minimize the impact of the drought.”

The federal drought map released Thursday shows the drought has spread to all 100 of the state’s counties. Exceptional drought is now in 12 counties in western North Carolina. Extreme drought has moved from the Piedmont to the coastal plain and is affecting 28 counties. Severe drought is in 44 counties and has spread to Wilmington and other southeastern communities. The remaining 16 counties are in moderate drought. The drought map can be found at www.ncdrought.org.

That map lists all of the Roanoke-Chowan area counties in the moderate drought range, the second lowest category on the scale. However, severe drought is creeping northeastward from the south and west. Severe drought has entered the southwestern area of Bertie County.

“We’re in good shape right now,” Bertie Water Department Director Ricky Spivey said. “We’re keeping a very close eye on the drought conditions as well as closely monitoring the water supply that feeds our county’s rural water districts.”

As a matter of fact, Spivey said he had just completed a local water supply plan, the first step in putting together a voluntary water conservation plan.

“We need to have a plan already in place if and when the county manager and commissioners see the need for water conservation,” Freeman noted.

Hertford County Manager Loria Williams said the situation here in the northeastern rural counties is different from the urban areas of the state.

“We rely solely on groundwater while Raleigh and other major cities use lakes and reservoirs, bodies of water that are affected quickly by the lack of rainfall,” Williams said. “To my knowledge, Hertford County’s groundwater supply and our wells are okay. I have heard no concerns expressed by Melvin (Nichols, the county’s Public Works Director) about low water levels.”

Williams said Hertford County has not established any water conservation measures at the present time.

Despite using a split system of ground and surface waters, Northampton County has yet to experience any major effects of the drought.

Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins explained that the rural water system covering the eastern half of the county is supplied by deep, high-producing wells. Meanwhile, water customers on the western end of Northampton are the recipients of water that is purchased and redistributed from the Weldon Water District and the Roanoke Rapids Sanitary District. That supply comes from surface waters of the Roanoke Rapids Lake and the Roanoke River.

“Periods of drought do not immediately impact the aquifers supplying our deep wells,” Jenkins said. “Drought does have a more noticeable effect on surface waters, but to my knowledge neither the Roanoke Rapids Lake nor the Roanoke River are showing the major strains of a drought.”

Jenkins added that county officials are very conscience of the ongoing drought and do encourage voluntary conservation, but no restrictions are now mandated.

“We have a plan in place in case the drought worsens for our area of the state,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also said Northampton’s water districts are connected with the municipal systems in the county and that, “we can help each other if needed.”

On average, North Carolina communities have received between 50 percent and 75 percent of the normal rainfall for this time of year. The weather forecast is calling for little chance of significant rainfall during the next week, meaning more strain on the state’s 597 public water systems.

As of Thursday, 59 public water systems have imposed voluntary water restrictions, including Ahoskie, and 21 have imposed mandatory water restrictions due to the drought. All totalted, 130 systems that serve 52 percent of the state’s population have instituted water restrictions due to drought, seasonal programs or for other reasons.

While there have been isolated, brief storms recently, weather forecasters predict no immediate relief to the drought that is drying reservoirs, devastating farm crops and livestock and leaving homeowners with brown lawns and dying plants.

Meanwhile, reduced water levels have forced the closing of some recreational facilities at state lakes.

Earlier this week, the N.C. Division of Forest Resources imposed a statewide ban on open burning and cancelled all burning permits due to the lack of rain that has dried out vegetation, thus increasing the threat of devastating wildfires.