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Drought - grip on W.Va. getting tighter

July 22, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County should take steps to monitor its own water situation if the county wants to avoid state-mandated water conservation, Berkeley County Commission President D. Wayne Dunham said Thursday.

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Two days after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge ordered mandatory water conservation measures for 55 counties in his state, Dunham said Berkeley County officials are better equipped to handle their own water situations.

West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood has said he does not want to issue a statewide order but has asked counties to keep a close eye on the situation.

Public service districts in Berkeley County are not reporting any water problems, but there are concerns across the county, Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services Director Steve Allen said.

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The county Health Department has issued 15 emergency well permits for homeowners whose wells have run dry, Allen said.

Water officials from the Bunker Hill, W.Va., area have told Allen their spring capacity has dropped to half of its normal amount.

"These shortages are pretty well spread around the county," Allen said.

While the public service districts are not having serious problems right now, Dunham wants to start holding weekly meetings with the groups so that any shortages won't catch the county off guard.

"We're kind of in a gray area right now," Opequon Public Service District General Manager Richard Beegle said.

The Opequon district is able to serve its 4,200 customers, but it is impossible to predict what will happen over the next few weeks, Beegle said.

"It all depends on the rainfall," he said.

Any water conservation decisions are best left in the hands of local officials, West Virginia Office of Emergency Services Director John Pack said.

Whether the situation involves a public service district or a single homeowner with a well, Pack said water conservation decisions should not be made on a statewide level.

Those hoping for a quick end to the drought will be disappointed, he said.

The Eastern Panhandle needs slow rainfall amounting to 10 to 15 inches over a two-month period to reestablish the depleted aquifer, Pack said.

Weather forecasts for the area predict high temperatures and only a chance for the occasional scattered shower, he said. "This isn't going to go away anytime soon."

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