07/08/08 — High heat reinstates drought concerns

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High heat reinstates drought concerns

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on July 8, 2008 1:46 PM

Wayne County residents might want to hold off on watering their plants or lawns, or at least cut back, officials say.

Even with recent rains, area residents aren't as water wealthy as they were months ago.

The county jumped from the moderate drought category to the severe drought category last week, the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council reported.

Just last month, the county was categorized as abnormally dry -- the lowest level on the drought monitoring system.

But with high-90-degree temperatures and sporadic rainfall in recent weeks, the drought condition has worsened, even though water source levels aren't looking too bad.

Over the weekend, Goldsboro had a little saving grace with "a little over 2 inches," said Laura Pagano, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

"There were a lot of pop-up thunderstorms that dumped a lot of rain," she said.

The problem with those thunderstorms, she added, is that they don't typically last for very long, and bringing in a ton of rain at one time can present even more problems.

"When it starts to pour, and if it rains really hard upstream in particular, there could be flash flooding," she said. "We have not been in a terrible drought, so it can cause flooding problems."

The same type of weather seen over the weekend is likely to be seen again this week.

Low pressure systems over the northeast will continue to push thunderstorms and rain Goldsboro's way, Ms. Pagano said.

"The weather looks very unstable over the area," she said, meaning that it is hard to predict when the thunderstorms will happen on any given day, if at all.

Fortunately, said Goldsboro Public Utilities Director Karen Brashear, as it is now, the city's main water source -- the Neuse River -- still has a good amount of water.

After a month of ups and downs that seem to be continuing into July, the Neuse came in this morning at 3.60 feet -- up from 3.53 feet on July 2 but down from nearly 4 feet on June 25, two of the recent high points over the last few weeks.

Mrs. Brashear said that the river should be at a higher level in about three days, "once the rain catches up with us."

"The Neuse River is rising at Goldsboro and upstream," she added, saying that the level at Clayton was climbing higher and higher throughout the day Monday, and that water there will flow down to Goldsboro in a few days time.

"I see it up for a significant amount of time," Mrs. Brashear said.

The Neuse River's main source, Falls Lake, was at 251.68 feet on Monday -- "0.3 feet above full," she added, because Raleigh received more rain than Goldsboro over the weekend.

Water usage is also "slightly higher than last month," Mrs. Brashear said.

"It is normal use for this time of year," she said.

The past week, the average water production has been 5.18 million gallons daily, the public utilities director said.

But water revenues are down compared to the beginning of the year.

In May and June, revenues were $301,708 and $296,987 -- more than $13,000 less than January and February.

Still, the drought situation isn't as bad as it was, Mrs. Brashear said, adding that only a few months ago, the county was in extreme and exceptional drought categories.

She added that rainfall in Raleigh -- which then helps Goldsboro downstream -- was 0.94 inches above normal for this year but 2.12 inches below normal for the last 12 months.

Even with the county in the higher drought category, Goldsboro officials aren't looking to increase water conservation efforts yet.

City Manager Joe Huffman said it might be a little early yet for city officials to start looking at putting stricter conservation measures back into place, but they are monitoring the situation.

There are some in the city, though, who don't have to worry so much about what the restrictions are for city water, like Anna and Russell Lee Best.

They join about 530 homes in the city that have little white signs in their yards telling others that they irrigate with a private well.

The Bests had a well installed at their home downtown last year after a windstorm in August ripped up six trees in their yard.

They had to start over with the landscaping, and decided a well would help.

Since the city had been on water restrictions, the Bests needed their own source of water that they could use to spray the grass outside.

"We needed our grass to grow back," Mrs. Best said.

So they picked up the phone and called a company that installs wells.

With their yard already disheveled, putting a well in wasn't any extra hassle, and the cost wasn't "too bad" either.

"The big hassle was getting those trees out of here, and to be honest with you, getting the trees out was the
big financial hassle," Mrs. Best said.

They were happy with their well purchase then, and they still are now -- especially when there are restrictions on city water.

"We're glad we did it. Hopefully we won't have to worry about water for a while," Mrs. Best said.

She and her husband say they still watch their watering, even with well water.

"We are still cautious and careful," she said. "The sprinklers are only timed to come on every other day."