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Most of South Carolina still plagued by drought

Saturday, February 10, 2001

COLUMBIA - Drought still plagues most of South Carolina and no relief is in sight for the next three months, the State Climatology Office says. The state's third dry winter in a row may not yield enough rain to recharge lakes and ground water. That may leave more dried up ponds and wells come spring and summer, officials said. This drought officially began in June 1998, and parts of the state are 30 inches below normal rainfall since then, state drought coordinator Hope Mizzell said.

"The drought continues to take a large toll on many of the state's resources, especially tourism, forestry and agriculture. It may take years for South Carolina's ecosystems to completely recover," Mizzell said. Water shortages could become more widespread this summer unless rains increase, said Alfred Vang, director of the land, water and conservation division for the Natural Resources Department.

Vang said people need to be more careful about discharging waste into waterways because pollutants become more potent when streams run slower. Another danger from the drought is dry brush fueling wildfires. Forestry Commission spokesman Ken Cabe said one person has died and several homes have been destroyed by fires started when trash fires got out-of-control.

-- Martin Thompson (, February 10, 2001


Drought conditions worsen in Carolinas

Friday, February 23, 2001 By Bruce Henderson, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

Don't let last week's rain fool you: Drought across major parts of the Carolinas is deepening. Streams, reservoirs and groundwater in the Piedmont and mountains are running on empty, thwarting hopes that winter rains would begin to lift the region out of a 31-month dry spell.

From October through January, state officials say, the Charlotte region was the driest it's been since 1948. South Carolina hasn't seen the likes of the current drought, which dates to mid-1998, for more than 40 years.

Water supplies across the two states are likely to suffer this spring and summer, experts say, unless rain starts falling hard and soon. Water demand, as homeowners water lawns and fill pools, begins rising in March and April.

"If we don't receive any significant amounts of rain in the next four to six weeks, it's potentially going to be a very long summer," said Curtis Weaver, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist who watches N.C. stream flows. "Winter is the time for recharging, and in these last few months, it hasn't been happening."

Charlotte is 21 percent under its normal rainfall since July 1998, Asheville is 26percent and Greenville, S.C., 30 percent. Weather experts blame La Nina, the cooling of Pacific Ocean waters that sends high-altitude winds to the Carolinas from the northwest, where they can't pick up moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which compiles data from federal agencies, last week expanded its extreme-drought label to cover most of Western North Carolina. Charlotte, the Piedmont and northwestern South Carolina are in a severe drought. Only Florida rivals the intensity of the arid Carolinas.

Short, severe dry spells toast fields and forests. This stealth drought saps the region's natural capital streams and groundwater.

While a few months of normal rainfall could replenish streams and reservoirs, some experts say it could take years for groundwater to fully recover.

Streams, which feed reservoirs and carry away treated sewage, are flowing at less than half their normal levels. Until last week's rain, many streams were at 10percent or less of normal flows. A U.S. Geological Survey map of national stream flows paints a bull's-eye red and orange dots denoting critically low levels over the western half of the Carolinas.

During the first two weeks of February, at least 72 of the 101 N.C. streams the survey monitors set daily record lows or flowed at minimal levels. More than half the S.C. streams set daily low-flow records over the weekend of Feb. 10-11.

When no rain falls, streams run almost entirely with groundwater, further bleeding the hidden reserves. For the third year in a row, slow, soaking winter rains have failed to replenish the ground.

Greenville, S.C., is nearly 40 inches shy of its normal rainfall since mid-1998.

"It's like somebody turned off a spigot," said Frank Eskridge of the Greenville Water System. The largest of the system's three reservoirs is down 21feet, but still well above the 40-foot drop regarded as critical.

A state-maintained well in Greenville is at its lowest water level since it was installed in 1973. "In the 1980s, we thought the water level would never go lower," said Bud Badr, a hydrologist with the State Climatology Office. "Now we're a foot-and-a-half below that."

-- Martin Thompson (, February 27, 2001.

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