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County not yet out of drought

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By Jenny Hartley

Easing drought conditions may be a Christmas gift come early to the Catawba-Wateree River basin.

The Catawba-Wateree Basin is continuing to see drought conditions, the Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group announced last week.

But recent widespread rains, Duke Energy’s voluntary limited releases along the river and continued water conservation by customers are holding the region’s water supply at a steady level.  

“It’s good news,” said Lancaster County Water and Sewer District  Manager Mark Knight. “Things are improving. We need to continue to stay in this weather pattern. We do need to realize we’re still in a Stage 3 drought.”

Residents who get their water from the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District or the city of Lancaster may water their lawns or wash cars two days a week according to their addresses.

Those with even-numbered addresses may water on Thursday and Sunday, and those with odd-numbered addresses may water on Tuesday and Saturday.

Water consumption by Lancaster County Water and Sewer District   customers is lower now than at this time last year, Knight said. Residents have been under water restrictions since last year.

“Everyone is conservation-sensitive now, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “It does hurt revenues a little bit sometimes.”

The Catawba drought advisory group reviews the area’s major drought indicators, such as the U.S. Drought Monitor map, stream flow, reservoir storage and groundwater levels, along with the National Weather Service’s predictions of future weather trends to make recommendations about water use.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows the majority of the basin in normal to moderate drought conditions.  

The long-term trends for groundwater levels continue to show gradual improvement, even though they remain below normal for this time of year.

Reservoir water storage remains above target storage levels.

To date, 2008’s rainfall over the basin has been about 7.5 inches below normal, although some areas, like Charlotte, have seen more, and some, like the upper parts of the basin, have seen less.  

The National Weather Service is predicting below average precipitation through March. December is expected to end with near average precipitation.

“Hopefully, early in the first quarter of 2009, we’ll be able to allow more water use,” Knight said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

The Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group was formed to regularly review the drought status and to recommend and coordinate needed actions for its members.

Normally scheduled to meet once a year, the group has received weekly drought status reports since late summer 2007 and has met as a group at least monthly.  

Members of the advisory group include the area’s public water suppliers and several large industrial users that withdraw water from the basin, Carolina agencies, the U.S. Geological Survey and Duke Energy.  

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151