U.S. Water News Online
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The record-setting drought that has forced
the governor to plead for conservation, homeowners to shelve their
lawn sprinklers and farmers to drain their ponds for irrigation is
only forecast to get worse in the new year.
If the predictions come true, convenience won't be the only
North Carolina's multibillion dollar agriculture industry is
prepping for what may be a devastating year for both crops and
livestock, while local governments are eyeing emergency plans -- and
expensive solutions -- for water systems on the brink of crisis.
"We need to make sure we keep water going to the hospitals and the
nursing homes and enough to people's homes for those fundamental
needs," said John Morris, director of the North Carolina Division of
Water Resources. "We're certainly at the point now where we need to
have a good solid plan for those more extreme measures."
That "solid plan" may include water rationing, a step Morris
predicted some parts of North Carolina will have to take if
conditions get worse.
The Southeast baked under a strong upper-level ridge that
persisted through the summer, and without a tropical storm to dump a
sudden burst of rain, the average rainfall deficit in North Carolina
will be about 14 inches in 2007.
The weather wasn't just dry -- the Raleigh and Durham area set a
record with 83 days in which temperatures hit 90 degrees, more than
double the usual 37. When combined with growing demand for water from
a surging population, the result was the worst drought since
officials began keeping records at the end of the 19th Century.
"If we have another bad summer, that's when we get to the point
where we stop talking about a crisis and we're actually in a crisis,"
said state climatologist Ryan Boyles.
Officials at Duke Energy are already bemoaning difficulties with
some of its water-based electricity generators. Forestry officials
say the drought-fueled wildfires charred some 37,000 acres of land --
about double the 10 year average -- and may get larger and more
intense in 2008 as the tinder-dry landscape becomes more susceptible
to fires triggered by lightning.
North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said if
2007's weather repeats itself, the state's agriculture business will
be devastated. Farmers lost an estimated $382 million in crops in the
past year, and Troxler said the ground is now so dry there isn't
enough moisture to germinate crops.
Lakes and ponds at many farms have already been drained to
supplement irrigation and a lack of hay is forcing farmers to cull
their cattle herds, Troxler said.
"We know that we're starting with low soil moisture right now,"
Troxler said. "If we have another year just like 2007, then this is
going to get much worse."
The drought is also starting to hit the budgets of local
governments. Durham is spending to pump water out of a quarry and is
looking at treating the muddy water below the usual intakes in its
Lake Michie and Little River reservoirs. City leaders are also
considering spending more than $60 million to permanently expand its
reserves to Lake Jordan and the abandoned quarry.
Elsewhere, Siler City is spending an extra $1 million to
accelerate a pipeline to the water supply of Sanford. Rocky Mount and
Wilson are connecting their water resources with an emergency
pipeline that will cost $1.26 million.
"If we, as citizens, do not conserve (water), we jeopardize
industry being able to continue, which jeopardizes jobs, and that
hurts families," said Gov. Mike Easley while asking residents to cut
consumption by at least 30 to 40%. Easley has urged local governments
to significantly raise water prices on those who use it excessively.
Forecasters don't expect any immediate relief. The National
Weather Service expects the La Nina climate pattern -- in which
colder water in the tropical Pacific push the jet stream and wet
weather north and away from the southeastern USA -- to stick around
through the spring. La Nina strengthened significantly in December,
the weather service said.
That pattern usually brings rainfall of 3 to 5 inches below normal
in the six-month span covering winter and spring -- a tough forecast
in a state that needs steady, above-average rainfall. The weather
service puts the chances of North Carolina getting enough rain to
ease the drought at less than 10%.
But forecasters also note the summer months are unpredictable. A
tropical system or slightly above average rainfall could alleviate
much of the drought conditions, said Doug LeComte, a drought
specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's
Climate Prediction Center.
"I don't want to be too pessimistic," LeComte said. "Droughts do
end, and sometimes surprisingly quickly. You never hope for a
hurricane, but you might hope for the remains of one."
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