Stage 4 drought possible, though at least weeks away

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By Johnathan Ryan

If Lancaster County doesn’t get substantial rain fall over the next few months, current restrictions on residents will carry into next spring and summer, said a Lancaster County Water and Sewer District official on Friday. “That is what’s scary,”said Stephen White, assistant manager of the utility. Lancaster County is now under Stage 3 water restrictions – the second-worst level – in what is typically the driest time of year – the fall. The restrictions have disallowed all non-necessary water use from public residential sources, such as lawn watering and car washing. The Lancaster County Water and Sewer District issued the Stage 3 restrictions Oct. 10. With a continued lack of rain, Stage 4 restrictions aren’t unthinkable, but it would take several weeks to get to that point, White said. “Of course, that depends on the rain situation and amount of conservation from everyone,” White said. In Stage 4, customers would be asked to reduce water consumption by 30 percent and irrigation would be further limited, with no home irrigation allowed at all, White said.

Suspicious eyes

Since the Stage 3 restrictions were imposed, some Lancaster County residents have looked quizzically at others seen watering their residential or business lawns, wondering about possible violations. Some have decided to inform local governments and law enforcement authorities about their suspicions. But in many cases, these people were using private water sources, such as wells. “Overall, people are being good stewards,” White said, commending subdivision residents in the northern part of the county in particular. White said the district does not concern itself with wells and current water-use restrictions do not apply to them. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which oversees the permitting of wells, has just one general regulation on well use and it doesn’t pertain to times of drought. It limits general capacity limit on large users to 3,000,000 gallons a month, said Jim Hess, manager of DHEC’s private well program. Hess said notices to DHEC within the past three months of wells to be constructed in Lancaster County are behind the rate seen statewide. Only three new residential wells were slated to be constructed here in September and one irrigation well. The state total was 722. In August, it was 1,050.

A sign for well watering?

Some local government officials are encouraging those who use well water to consider placing signs in their yards to let others know their water source is private and not subject to Stage 3 drought restrictions. Local governments do not restrict the use of well water during times of drought, either. Kershaw Town Administrator Tony Starnes said his town keeps records of residential and commercial wells within town limits. When people call Town Hall questioning neighbors or others suspected of violating water-use restrictions, all town officials have to do is look at the books before making a visit. So far, most suspicious calls received by town officials involved people using water that came from a well, Starnes said. Starnes said well owners should still be mindful of the drought situation, as their “private” water is still a source that could be needed in emergency situations, he said. “Personally, I think you should still try to conserve,” he said. Contact Johnathan Ryan at 416-8416 or jryan@thelancasternews.com