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Drought persists, despite some heavy rainfall in recent weeks

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By The Staff

Lancaster County has seen some rain in recent days, but residents are still being asked to conserve water.

The Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group recommends the region continue the current Stage 3 water restrictions implemented last fall to ensure an adequate water supply is available.  In their implementation of Stage 3 water restrictions, most public water systems in the river basin are prohibiting lawn watering.

Ed Bruce, coordinator of the advisory group, said while some indicators are showing signs of recovery, the U.S. Drought Monitor, streamflow and groundwater indicators still show that the area is in a drought.

“It’s obvious to the community that we’ve had some nice rainfall, and the area’s lake levels are at or above normal levels for this time of year,” Bruce said. “But what’s less obvious, and just as important to these lake levels, is how much less water is being removed compared to normal conditions.”

Since last fall, water-use restrictions have reduced public water consumption between 15 and 30 percent of normal expected use. Duke Energy has limited water releases from the river system’s dams to only the minimums necessary for public water needs.

Although the recent rainfall has increased the storage in reservoirs, natural evaporation from the reservoirs and transpiration from the area’s trees and plants begin to remove large quantities of water from the basin in the spring. These natural water losses will soon return to their warm-weather highs, which are three times higher than in winter.

The Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group reviewed the area’s major drought indicators along with the National Weather Service’s predictions of six-month weather trends.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows the exceptional drought area in the Southeast has shrunk over the last month, but the Piedmont area of the Carolinas is now classified as extreme drought, still a very serious drought designation. 

Groundwater levels have stopped decreasing, but have not recovered a lot.

The six-month average of area stream flows remains around 40 percent of normal and the March average stream flows are only slightly higher.

Rainfall over the past three months is still well below normal. National Weather Service trends are predicting lower-than-average rainfall throughout the summer due to the continuing influence of La Niña.

Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisor Group members include the area’s public water suppliers and several large industrial users that withdraw water from the Catawba River basin, agencies in the Carolinas, the U.S. Geological Survey and Duke Energy.