UNION COUNTY — With rainfall more than three inches below normal Union County is facing “incipient drought” according to the SC Drought Response Committee.
In a statement released this past Friday, the SC Department of Natural Resources announced that, meeting via conference call on July 8, the Drought Response Committee had “upgraded the drought status for 32 South Carolina counties. Twenty eight counties were upgraded to the first level of drought, ‘incipient,’ and four counties were upgraded to ‘moderate,’ the second level of drought. Beaufort and Jasper, and counties in the Pee Dee Region remain in ‘normal,’ or non-drought condition.”
The statement quotes State Climatologist Hope Mizzell who said that, with a few exceptions, most counties in the state have had above average temperatures and below average rainfall during the past month.
“The majority of the state has been dry and hot,” Mizzell said. “Counties that were not upgraded have received near normal amounts of rainfall over the last 30 days.”
The press release included “selected station rainfall totals and departure from normal values for the period June 1-July 8,” including Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport which observed 1.32 inch of rain. This was a departure or deficit of 3.3 inches from the normal value or level of 3.62 inches.
One of the counties now designated by the Drought Response Committee as being in incipient drought is Union County.
Most of Union County gets its water from the City of Union Utility Department. This includes the approximately 6,000 customers who get their water directly from the city and other parts of the county such as the towns of Carlisle and Lockhart which get theirs indirectly from the city through the county’s various water districts. Only the Town of Jonesville doesn’t get its water from the City of Union, getting it instead from Spartanburg.
The city gets its water from the Broad River and city officials say that even though the county is in incipient drought, the water level of the river is currently sufficient to meet the needs of the people and businesses of Union and the rest of Union County that gets its water from the city.
Utility Department Administrative Assistant Mary Jo Sanders said Monday that the city ordinance governing droughts does not mention incipient drought. It does, however, include moderate, severe, and extreme droughts and lists how the city is to respond to and cope with such conditions.
While the ordinance does not mention incipient drought, Sanders said that a message will be included on the next utility bills sent out informing customers of the situation and ask that they take steps to conserve water. She said she has also notified the water districts served by the city of the situation and asked them to take steps to conserve water as well.
Concerning the next level of drought, moderate drought is defined by city ordinance as occurring when “the Broad River’s stream flow slows to less than 200 cubic feet per second and moderate drought conditions have been verified by the be available information and conditions indicate this situation is expected to persist.”
Sander said that at the present time, however, the Broad River’s stream flow is 1,030 cubic feel per second.
The SCDNR press release also included further statements by the members of the Drought Response Committee about the causes of the drought and its impact.
“I’ve been on the drought committee a long time, and I’ve never seen a drought cycle develop and deteriorate so quickly,” said Dennis Chastain, a well-known naturalist and West Area Drought Committee member from Pickens. “In my opinion three things account for this; the rainfall deficit, the abnormally high temperatures and the wind, which has significantly increased evaporation. All three factors have worked together to quickly exasperate the drought.”
In Upstate areas hit hard in recent weeks by higher temperatures and lack of rainfall, some crops are withering, and the first cutting of hay has been poor, reported committee member Brad Boozer, who represents the S.C. Department of Agriculture. Boozer described hearing from row crop farmers in some areas of the state that late-planted fields of corn and soybeans have, in some cases, failed to germinate due to lack of rainfall, and from some Upstate farmers who reported purchasing hay for livestock due to the lack of available grass. Such agriculture-related concerns prompted committee members to take the somewhat unusual step of moving Pickens, Oconee, Anderson and Abbeville counties directly into moderate status, skipping the typical lower-level stage of “incipient.”
According to Blake Badger, with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, pasture conditions are deteriorating further, resulting in some producers reducing cattle inventory. Several meeting participants expressed concern over the long-term availability of hay for livestock feeding.
According to Mizzell, extreme temperatures, which increase evapotranspiration and cause low and decreasing soil moisture, can create a situation that is often referred to as a “flash drought.” A flash drought develops rapidly with impacts observed quickly, especially to agriculture.
Daryl Jones, S.C. Forestry Commission Forest Protection Chief, reported that since late June, fire ignitions have been increasing and the SCFC is preparing for an active late summer to early fall fire season.
Scott Harder, a hydrologist with the DNR, advised the committee that the recent below normal rainfall has led to notable declines in streamflow levels in the declared counties. The drop in streamflow combined with the increased evaporation from above normal temperatures has also caused small, but ongoing declines in reservoir levels in the Saluda and Savannah Basins. According to National Weather Service Senior Hydrologist/Meteorologist Leonard Vaughan, the short term forecast calls for temperatures to remain above normal with little to no improvement in rainfall chances across the Palmetto State for the next one to two weeks.
There was discussion and recognition by the committee following the water system status report provided by S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control Bureau of Water Chief David Baize that thankfully, at this point, there have been no reports of drought-related water supply problems. The primary impacts at this point are to agriculture, with an increasing concern for wildfires. The committee will continue to monitor the situation closely, and if conditions deteriorate the DNR’s Office of State Climatology will reconvene the committee as needed.
This story courtesy of the SC Department of Natural Resources.