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Pa. governor declares drought emergency

July 20, 1999|By DON AINES and RICHARD F. BELISLEs

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - John Evanchick just planted a lawn around his new house and has been trying to keep his new grass alive by watering it at least every other day.

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On Tuesday he learned the lawn probably won't make it.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed a proclamation declaring a drought emergency for 55 Pennsylvania counties including Franklin and Fulton.

"I don't know if I can water my grass now or not," Evanchick said. "It's getting brown. I have to water it to keep it alive."

Ridge's declaration bans such nonessential uses as watering lawns, topping off or filling swimming pools or washing cars with anything but a bucket.

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"Pennsylvania's water supply is at dangerously low levels," Ridge said in a press release. He urged state residents to conserve water in and out of their homes.

"If we don't act now to conserve our water there won't be any left to conserve," he said.

Ridge said the state faces the worst drought in its history.

Managers of Franklin County's main municipal water systems said their supplies are adequate for now. All plan to put the governor's mandatory restrictions into effect immediately.

"We're still OK ... but we still have to do what the governor asks us to do," said Chambersburg Assistant Water and Sewer Superintendent Bruce McNew.

The borough has an adequate water supply thanks to two reservoirs near Fayetteville, he said.

"Hopefully, we can conserve enough water now that we don't have to go to the next stage, which is water rationing," said Dennis Monn, Franklin County emergency management coordinator. He told the Franklin County Board of Commissioners Tuesday that he will set up a task force to monitor public water services and provide information to those services from the state.

Monn said those who violate the water use restrictions can be cited by state or municipal police. Illegal use of water during a drought emergency is similar to a traffic ticket, according to state law.

"We're holding our own, but there has been a decline in the spring flows," said Greencastle, Pa., Borough Manager Kenneth Myers, whose system serves nearly 4,000 customers. "We are going to need local cooperation."

"Unfortunately this may get worse before it gets better," he said.

In West Virginia, which is seeing its worst drought in more than 30 years, Gov. Cecil Underwood has asked for voluntary restrictions in 38 counties, including Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan.

Steve Allen, director of emergency services for Berkeley County, W.Va., said the public service district managers have not instituted any restrictions so far.

In Washington County, no restrictions are in effect and system managers say they have enough water to meet their customers' needs for now.

Ridge, in his statement, said that water levels across Pennsylvania are at levels normally seen in the fall and that ground water doesn't typically recharge itself until sustained autumn rains.

"This is the worst I've seen this early in the year, and this is just the onset," said S. Leiter Pryor, director of borough utilities for Waynesboro.

He said the water level in Waynesboro's 150-million-gallon reservoir fed by the headwaters of East Antietam Creek is high enough to send overflow water downstream to support aquatic life.

The borough has 6,800 water customers.

Jim Leventry, borough manager in Mercersburg, Pa., said although his 900-customer system has enough water in its two wells and reservoir, the governor's restrictions will still be put into effect.

According to census figures from 1990, 78 percent of Franklin County residents were served by public or private water services, with the rest served primarily by wells.

Thomas McCarty, a Penn State water quality specialist whose area includes Franklin County, said he has not received any requests for help from people whose wells have gone dry.

Area businesses that rely on water to operate will be affected by the emergency declaration.

Darrell Showalter, owner of Showalter's Trucking, 9475 Hades Church Road, Greencastle, said filling or topping private pools is a sizable part of his water-hauling business.

"There's a lot of people that only have cisterns" for domestic water, Showalter said. He said he charges $32 for a 2,000-gallon tanker load of water, enough to last an average family about two weeks.

"We only use what we need. We can't quit watering completely," said Joe Rock of Green Arbor Flower and Shrubbery Center, 11401 Buchanan Trail East, Waynesboro. Under the declaration, his business is allowed to use enough water to maintain stock.

Rock said the dry summer hasn't affected his business much so far, but the declaration probably will cut down on the number of people buying trees, shrubs and flowers.

Local weather observer Jerry Ashway of Chambersburg traces the rainfall deficit back to May 1. In an average year, the Chambersburg area would have received just over 10 inches of rain since that date. Instead, 4.3 inches have fallen, he said.

Rainfall in June was 2 inches, half the average, and July has produced just half an inch of precipitation. July's rainfall averages about 3.5 inches.

Temperatures for the month averaged about five degrees above normal, adding to the dry conditions, he said.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokesman Marko Bourne said conditions rival the record drought of 1964.

"The precipitation deficit is not as great as it was then ... but it's growing daily," Bourne said. Stream flow levels for the Susquehanna River fall below the lowest levels of 1964, he said.

"It's up to Mother Nature to relieve us," he said. "Conservation is our best and only effective tool to deal with the drought until she does."

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