Drought plagues

BY PJ HELLER | P.A. | December 23, 1998

Dry summer and fall conditions have prompted drought warnings and

emergencies in several Mid-Atlantic states. A month-long drought in

Colorado and much of the Midwest appeared to have eased as a winter

snowstorm moved through the region.

Researchers, however, warned that the drought conditions could be the start

of the worst Midwestern drought in the last 100 years, far surpassing the

Dust Bowl of the 1930s. They also warned that within the next century there

could be a "megadrought" which would affect the Midwest for two to four

decades. Such a phenomenon would be only the third megadrought in the last

700 years, they said.

Meantime, as the winter storm moved into the Great Lakes, with snow

accumulations expected up to 18 inches, officials elsewhere were keeping

close tabs on the weather in hopes it would help ease drought conditions in

their areas.

Officials in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey and

Virginia have imposed various water conservation measures to deal with

unseasonably low water reservoir levels.

The most stringent order was issued by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who

banned all non-essential water use in a 12-county area in the western and

central part of the state. Fifty-two other counties were under a drought

warning, which calls for a 10 percent to 15 percent voluntary reduction in

water usage.

"For these 12 Pennsylvania counties, our water shortage has reached

emergency levels," Ridge said. "This is a serious matter. Pennsylvanians in

these counties must do everything they can to conserve their water."

The 600 residents in Vintondale, Pa., have seen their water supply shut off

every other day for 24 hours at a time for about a week and a half.

"We were down to mud in the reservoir and had two-and-a-half days of water

left in our (water) tank," noted borough president Michael Palovich. "The

emergency (declaration) was a must."

Water was trucked into the town to fill the community's 36,000 gallon water

tank so residents could wash dishes and flush toilets. Drinking water was

purchased on an emergency basis by the borough and was donated by several

companies, Palovich reported. Several residents drove five miles to another

town to do laundry.

Trucking in water, coupled with rain and light snow, has helped ease the

situation and end the every-other-day water turnoffs. But Palovich warned

that problems remain.

"Right now we're in process of going day by day," he said, adding that a

new water system would not be on-line for at least a year. "We're going to

have to make the best of a bad situation."

Residents in the rural and farming areas outside Vintondale are on wells

and were not affected by the water shutoff. They were, however, trying to

use water sparingly.

"We've been conserving," said Cheryl Yaworski, a church secretary at

Blacklick Community United Methodist Church located about eight miles from

Vintondale. "We've been real conservative in how we use it (water)."

The Delaware River Basin Commission issued a drought warning for more than

7 million people in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware and

asked them to voluntarily reduce their water use. Mandatory water-use

restrictions could be imposed if conditions worsen.

Officials issued the warnings after reservoirs fell to lower than normal

levels due to a lack of rain in the summer and fall. Three New York City

reservoirs, normally at 65 percent of capacity this time of year with 176

billion gallons, were only at 41 percent capacity with 110 billion gallons.

Reservoirs in Westchester County, N.Y., were reported down more than 20

percent, prompting county officials to request voluntary conservation.

The last drought warning issued by the basin commission was in October

1997. It lasted less than three months.

Maryland officials also issued a drought warning for the entire state and

urged residents to conserve water. Officials there have been working to

keep drinking water flowing to homes and businesses along Georges Creek,

which has been nearly dry.

Several rural communities were receiving water from a Frostburg reservoir

through fire hoses and above-ground plastic pipes. A permanent underground

pipeline is being built. In the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., water

levels of reservoirs are as much as 23-feet below the normal levels for

this time of year.

In Virginia, recent rains prompted Gov. Jim Gilmore to lift a ban on open

burning that had been in effect since Oct. 30.

Posted Dec. 23, 1998

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