Utility eases water restrictions

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By Jenny Hartley

Just in time for the fall planting season, regional water officials say it's OK to use water outdoors two days a week.

The Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group said residents may water their lawns two days a week through Nov. 30. This provides the opportunity for some additional landscape watering during the fall planting season, along with other outdoor water uses.

Before Wednesday's announcement, residents could only water their lawns or wash their cars one day on weekends.

Lawn watering, car washing and pool filling are allowed on Tuesdays and Saturdays for odd numbered addresses and Thursdays and Sundays for even numbered addresses, said Mark Knight, manager of Lancaster County Water and Sewer District. The watering day begins and ends at midnight.

He commended customers for their efforts in abiding by the restrictions and conserving water during the drought.

"We remain in Stage 3 drought conditions and restrictions may need to be reduced if conditions worsen," Knight said.

Fall temps ease drought

The drought advisory group said while the Catawba-Wateree basin remains in a Stage 3 drought overall, rains in late August, coupled with recent cooler temperatures and natural evaporation, are stabilizing the region's water supply. Local water suppliers will provide guidance regarding the temporary restrictions specific to their jurisdictions.

"We anticipate that seasonal changes combined with the recent rainfall will continue to have a stabilizing effect on key drought indicators in coming months, and the CW-DMAG feels comfortable that the basin can support two watering opportunities a week during this optimal planting period," said Ed Bruce, the advisory group coordinator. "It could still be a while until a majority of drought indicators are at historically normal levels again, but with the cooperation of all users, we can successfully accommodate this short-term seasonal increase in water use."

Reservoirs remain at near-full levels, as they have for most of the summer, due to water conservation by utility customers and an on-going operating protocol by Duke Energy that releases only minimal discharges as needed for downstream needs. The drought advisory group will continue to review drought conditions regularly and re-evaluate recommendations as needed at or before its next meeting in late October.

Drought and weather indicators

The advisory group reviewed the area's major drought indicators along with the National Weather Service's predictions of future weather trends before allowing the extra water use.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows the majority of the Catawba-Wateree basin as being in a severe drought but also continues to show a small part of the upper basin classified in an extreme drought, which is the second-most severe drought classification.

Groundwater levels remain steady but are still well below normal for this time of year.

The six-month average of area stream flows has improved to more than 50 percent but remains solidly in Stage 3 drought conditions.

The reservoir storage has improved about 10 percent in the past month and remains in Stage 1 drought conditions.

To date, rainfall for the year has been about 6.3 inches below normal. The National Weather Service is predicting an equal chance for above, average or below average precipitation over the next couple of weeks. September is expected to end with below average rainfall.

Anyone with questions about water use may call the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District at 285-6919.

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