Most of S.C. in severe drought

Nearly all of South Carolina was upgraded to severe drought status Wednesday as state officials stepped up warnings to conserve water.

The state upgraded all counties except for Jasper and Beaufort, which received more than 6 inches of rain over the weekend. The last time South Carolina was in a severe drought was in June 2002.

Mandatory water restrictions have been in effect for three weeks across much of York County. Customers appear to be paying attention -- water use has dropped by nearly 20 percent in Rock Hill, utilities officials say.

As of Wednesday, the city has issued four citations and 85 written warnings to customers found to be watering illegally.

The city also has identified neighborhoods found to have the most violators: Laurel Creek, Norwood Ridge, Rollingwood, Wedgewood, Meadowlakes II and Ashley Park.

"When I walk around the neighborhood, if I see someone, I'll mention it to them," said Paul Anderko, past president of the Rollingwood Homeowners' Association. "I still think a lot of people don't know what the restrictions are. People don't know what days they're supposed to water on."

Under the restrictions, lawn-watering is limited to twice a week, and customers are banned from washing cars, outside buildings, sidewalks and driveways.

Rather than patrolling the city and citing people at random, inspectors are targeting offenders who have been reported by neighbors or others. Citations are $50 for homes and $100 for businesses, increasing with each successive citation.

The town of Clover likely will impose mandatory restrictions on Monday, Town Administrator Allison Harvey said. Clover gets its water from Gastonia, N.C., which already has taken similar action.

In Fort Mill, officials are leaving front-door notes on homes found to be watering illegally. So far, 40 to 50 have gotten notices, engineer Paul Mitchell said.

"Most everyone that I've spoken to has been very cordial and realizes, 'Yeah I messed up,'" he said. "We've not had any repeats thus far. A lot of people recognize that we have a problem."

The month of August was the hottest August ever recorded in South Carolina, with a record number of days above 100 degrees.

The Charlotte region received only .41 inches of rain last month, a record low, according to the National Weather Service. Since the beginning of the year, the area is more than 10 inches below normal.

Forecasters say a tropical or subtropical storm system might develop off the coast, but it's too early to tell what, if any, affect it might have on the drought.

Since July 1, the state Forestry Commission has fought 518 wildfires, burning 2,730 acres. That's more than double the normal number of wildfires in July and August.

The lack of rain means lakes and streams across the state are low. Of 17 monitored streams across the state, two are in severe drought and at least nine are in extreme drought. All but one of the state's lakes -- Lake Murray in the Midlands -- are below normal levels.

The drought has forced Duke Power to close boat ramps along the Catawba River basin, including at Lake Wylie.