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Pa. issues drought watch

April 12, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

Pennsylvanians are being asked to voluntarily reduce water use by 5 percent after state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty on Tuesday declared a drought watch for all 67 counties.

The declaration comes a week after the Franklin County Board of Commissioners voted to impose a 30-day countywide ban on open burning and just a few days after the area received appreciable weekend rains.

The DEP issued statistics for all counties showing a rainfall deficit over the past 60 days, with Franklin County's shortfall at 4.5 inches, less than half of normal.

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The deficit in Fulton County was 4.2 inches for the period, according to DEP statistics.

"We have had at least a good inch and a quarter in the last 10 days," said Jerry Ashway, a weather observer in Chambersburg. He said that was not enough to alleviate a drought.

"You can tell when you're out in the mountains, it's dry," he said.

A drought watch is the lowest of three levels of drought status, according to McGinty's statement. The next stage, a drought warning, calls for a voluntary reduction of 10 percent to 15 percent. A drought emergency, the final stage, includes mandatory water use reductions of at least 15 percent. Pennsylvania's last declared drought emergency was in 2002.

"Despite recent rainfall, precipitation levels over the last two months are below normal in every corner of the commonwealth," McGinty said. "Two-thirds of our counties are 50 percent or more below their normal precipitation levels. The remaining counties are reporting a deficit of at least 25 percent."

At this point, some municipal officials say water supplies are adequate.

"The last time I checked, about a week and a half ago, it was still overflowing," Chambersburg Sewer and Water Superintendent Carl Rundquist said of the borough's 1.78 billion gallon Long Pine Reservoir. The important figures, however, are how much flow there is into the reservoir and how much is being taken out.

The borough draws 3.5 million to 3.8 million gallons a day out of the Conococheague Creek downstream from the dam, but is permitted to draw up to 6 million gallons a day, Rundquist said.

"I don't see any particular problems in that regard at this point," Rundquist said of the water supply.

"If you survived 2001, you probably survived the worst," Rundquist said. The reservoir was down about 17 feet at one point during that drought, he said.

An employee at the Waynesboro water plant said Tuesday the borough's 150 million gallon reservoir is still overflowing.

"The (Washington Township) Municipal Authority has adequate water at this time for the summer," said Gene Barnhart, the authority manager. "We do recommend water conservation, but we recommend conservation all the time because that should be a normal condition in today's society."

"We are in the act of finishing a construction project that will be adding an additional well and a filtration system on our water supply system," Barnhart said. The project is scheduled for completion June 30, he said.

"We're going to be in better condition this year than normal," he said.

Reservoirs are designed to provide water through the worst drought on record, but Rundquist noted that area dams were designed before the 2001-02 drought, which became the worst on record.

The intermittent streams and headwaters near ridge tops are "bone dry" and rain is needed to reduce the risk of forest fires in Michaux State Forest, said District Forester Michael Kusko. He said the weekend rain "was a godsend," but the forest floor and dead leaves that can fuel a fire quickly dried out.

At this time of year, Kusko said, there are no leaves and no shade to keep the sun and wind from drying the forest floor.

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