Drought could jeopardize water supply in Western N.C

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Thu, Feb 22, 2001

Drought could jeopardize water supply in Western N.C., experts say

Levels of some rivers, streams in the area are at record lows STAFF AND WIRE REPORT

A drought that has persisted for 21/2 years in parts of North Carolina has some experts concerned that the water supply for some communities will falter this spring.

Despite last week's showers, winter rains have not been steady enough to replenish streams and reservoirs in the Piedmont and mountains. Water demand typically begins rising in March as homeowners water lawns and fill pools.

"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. "Winter is the time for recharging, and in these last few months, it hasn't been happening."

Monitoring stations for the geological survey recorded water levels yesterday that were record lows for the date on a number of rivers and streams in Northwest North Carolina, including the Yadkin River from Patterson to Enon; Elk Creek, a Yadkin tributary in western Wilkes County; the Reddies River in Wilkes; the Mitchell and Ararat rivers in Surry County; and Hunting Creek in Davie County.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which compiles data from federal agencies, expanded its extreme-drought label last week to cover most of Western North Carolina, though improvement is deemed likely by May for the mountains and the counties along the Virginia border. Lakes and reservoirs in the mountain and northern counties also were in better shape than in other parts of the state. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that the Kerr Scott Dam reservoir in Wilkes County was full early this week. Greensboro's lakes Townsend and Brandt were reported less than a foot below full Feb. 5, compared to two reservoirs in Rowan County that were more than 7 feet below full. High Rock Lake was nearly 5 feet below full yesterday, according to Yadkin Inc.

Weather experts blame La Niņa, the cooling of the Pacific Ocean, for sending high-altitude winds to the Carolinas from the northwest, where they can't collect moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. The long drought has sapped the flow of many streams, which feed reservoirs and carry away treated sewage. Until last week's rain, many streams were at 10 percent or less of normal flows. During the first two weeks of February, at least 72 of the 101 N.C. streams monitored by the survey were flowing at below-normal levels, and many set record lows for that time of year.

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

By late February, reservoirs usually begin to brim over as rainfall increases and people demand less water.

Instead, communities including Concord and Harrisburg have banned at-home car washing and asked residents to limit their showers to four minutes.

Officials in several towns are worried about shallow reservoirs.

"We would like to be completely full by the end of March, because that marks the beginning of the dry season," said Tom Frederick, a water official in Asheville. "If things continue to be dry, that could become a problem."

Duke Power, which depends on the Catawba River for hydroelectric production, says it can't maintain lake levels indefinitely without substantial rain.

The National Weather Service forecasts dry weather across the Southeast from March through May, but drought watchers are holding out hope for rain.

nA link to a related Web site can be found at the Journal's Web site at www.journalnow.com

This story can be found at : http://www.journalnow.com/wsj/news/MGBHDBRZHJC.html

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 22, 2001

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