With news last week that the communities surrounding Lake Wylie are back in Stage 1 drought, business owners closest to the water are hoping and praying conditions improve.
“We’ve been talking about it after maybe six weeks worth of no rain,” said Diana Grubenhoff, owner of Long Cove Marina. “It’s scary. I don’t do the Chicken Little stuff, thinking that the sky is falling. I do like to pay attention.”
Up north, Harbortowne Marina in Belmont is on alert, too.
“We’ve had a steady drop (in the lake level) here the last few weeks,” said manager Joel Summitt.
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On Thursday, the Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group placed the region in Stage 1 drought according to a Low Inflow Protocol system developed by Duke Energy and municipal stakeholders. Stages 0 to 4 outline steps for conserving water, with Stage 4 being the most severe. Stage 1 is the highest voluntary conservation stage.
“Recent rains were very beneficial, but not enough to restore the basin’s long-term stream flow and storage to normal conditions,” said Ed Bruce, group coordinator.
Voluntary water-use reduction suggestions include limiting lawn and landscape irrigation, and washing vehicles. The move to Stage 1 was prompted by lower water storage in basin reservoirs, like Lake Wylie, which declined to 86 percent of target. The drought group will now meet at least monthly for updates.
Yet they aren’t the only ones giving updates. Grubenhoff plans to send out a newsletter to her members soon with low-water information.
Summitt began tracking daily water depths with a marked pole at Harbortowne after he “learned the hard way” about dropping water levels during the most recent drought.
A record drought, which peaked in 2007 with mandatory water restrictions throughout the Carolinas and closed boat ramps along Lake Wylie and other local water bodies, remains fresh in the minds of people close to the water.
“I hope we don’t get to that point,” Grubenhoff said, calling 2007 the worse she’s seen in 20 years at Long Cove. “I pray that it doesn’t get worse.”
Summitt said he had a houseboat on the bottom of the lake and outboard motors stuck in mud in 2007. He already has four slips in shallow water now, raising his concerns for repeat conditions.
“It’s always nervous,” he said. “I definitely hope we don’t end up there again. That would be devastating for business.”
Yet while Summitt admits lake levels are ultimately “in Mother Nature’s hands,” he also said we “all learned a lot from the last time.” While the drop was much more severe last time, it has been more gradual this go around, he said.
“I’m sure those folks are looking at it,” Summitt said of Duke, the company managing the lake. “They know what’s going on as well as we do.”
On Monday morning, Lake Wylie sat at more than a foot below its target level, the lowest level in 13 months, according to an duke-energy.com. Lake Wylie, however, was more than 2 feet above the level needed to keep water intakes covered and wildlife safe. Lake Norman to the north was 2 feet below its target, while Lake Wateree to the south was one-inch above its target.
However, there are signs for optimism. Jerry Lathan, fleet captain for Commodore Yacht Club in the southern end of Lake Wylie, said this time of year’s weather is a bonus, with cooler weather and rain expected.
“I’d think in the fall we’ll be getting a good bit of rain,” Lathan said. “If this was February or March heading into spring and summer, I might be a little more concerned.”
Still, Lathan said Commodore was fortunate even in 2007. That drought only rendered five of 74 slips unusable, and the boat launch there remained open throughout the drought.
“It won’t have much impact on us,” Lathan said. “We’ve got deep water.”
For other areas, though, businesses will just have to wait and watch.
“That’s all we can do,” Summitt said.