Rain doesn't put much of a dent in drought

Charles Wood, President of the River Hills Marina, shows where the water level normally is at the marina on Lake Wylie. He said the jet skis shown at right have been landlocked by the drought. The level is 2 feet above minimum elevation.
Charles Wood, President of the River Hills Marina, shows where the water level normally is at the marina on Lake Wylie. He said the jet skis shown at right have been landlocked by the drought. The level is 2 feet above minimum elevation.

The scattered rainfall from Friday -- or today, for that matter -- won't keep tighter water restrictions at bay, local municipal officials say.

Lake Wylie's water level is just inches away from the critical minimum level that could trigger Stage 4 drought conditions. As of Friday, Lake Wylie was a mere 2 inches above the minimum elevation of 92.6 feet below full pond, according to Duke Energy's lake level Web site. The lake dropped 3 inches since Monday.

With that in mind, Rock Hill City Council members will be asked Monday to consider prohibiting irrigation for lawns as a way to prolong Stage 4 drought restrictions, said Jimmy Bagley, the city's utilities director.

If approved, lawn watering could be eliminated almost immediately, he said.

Bagley said State 4 restrictions could come within 30 days depending on the weather and lake levels. Stopping lawn irrigation now could save another 10 percent of water use and postpone the stricter restrictions an additional week or more, he said. Residents would still be able to hand-water trees, shrubs and plants.

Stage 4 restrictions eliminate any nonessential water use, Bagley said. It would impact many businesses, such as car washes, street pavers, builders and pressure washers. He said he and others are looking at ways to limit water per household.

"We need to make sure the system has water for fire protection," he said, adding the system is monitored daily. "We're looking at the worst-case scenario."

Bagley said the lake can be 20 feet below capacity and the city would still have enough water for residents. However, he said, Duke Energy has different needs.

For Duke, Lake Wylie's minimum level represents the point where water is necessary for a variety of uses, including power generation, and any level below that point would begin to expose public, private, municipal, commercial and industrial water intakes.

But Duke Energy officials aren't conceding that Stage 4 will be declared, or that customers will notice any problems with power production.

"We feel pretty good about that," said Andy Thompson, spokesman for Duke. "We're continuing to watch the lake levels, but we feel pretty good about meeting the energy needs of our customers. We've had severe droughts before and been able to provide power, so we see no reason why we won't be able to do that again."

Thompson said the company would not be responsible for emergency scenarios like bringing in water from other areas, but that situation is "way down the road in a scenario we hope we don't have to encounter."

Cities and towns would be in charge of emergency water supplies, he said.

Duke insists the Catawba basin is operated as a single unit, and water capacity throughout the basin determines water flows. Because all of the Catawba's lakes are suffering from the drought, there is no quick fix -- such as opening dams from reservoirs higher up the chain -- to relieve the problem.

Looking ahead

About .27 inches of rain fell on Friday, but it wasn't enough.

David Hughes, supervisor of York County Water and Sewer, said the area is 14 to 18 inches in rainfall behind for the year.

"We need a sustained regular rainfall of 2 to 3 inches above normal for the winter, and it doesn't really look like we're going to get that," Hughes said.

Hughes expects to move to the next phase of water restrictions after York County Council's Nov. 5 meeting.

Greg Lamberty of the National Weather Service in Columbia said the winter is expected to have less rain and higher temperatures than normal.

"The weather pattern shifted further west, so moisture-bearing winds and weather systems have shifted that way as well," he said. "It's kept any sign of tropical systems out of the area."

That leaves area towns scrambling to prepare for the worse-case scenario.

Fort Mill

"With no real rain in the forecast, level four drought is likely in the coming weeks," Fort Mill Town Manager David Hudspeth said. "That will restrict all outdoor water uses."

Hudspeth said the town has already ended all irrigation. He said the town has spoken with other large water users and many, including the Fort Mill school district and US Foods, have agreed to cut back where possible.

The school district uses disposable plates and utensils a few days a week to cut back on the need to wash dishes, Hudspeth said. If Stage 4 conditions are announced, the district will use only disposable utensils and plates until the conditions get better.

"That kind of creates some other issues with waste, but right now I think conserving water is more important," Hudspeth said.

Area residents also are encouraged to stop watering their lawns.

But some homeowners don't seem to care, Hughes said.

"It's almost like they are in denial," Hughes said. "A lot are thinking it's going to be OK. People need to wake up to the fact that we're in a very, very dangerous situation and it's only going to get worse if we don't have rain."

Dan Mummey, residential project manager with Clear Springs Development in Baxter Village, said he's heard rumblings from neighbors on the community's online message board that people weren't following water restrictions. He recently e-mailed a reminder to residents that stated the county is in "a dire situation" with regard to the water supplies.

Mummey said if water restrictions are tightened more, they will likely post notices on the Baxter message board detailing individual violators.


The town of Clover, currently in Stage 3 restrictions, will follow the lead of Gastonia, N.C., if Stage 4 regulations are mandated.

"We haven't heard anything from the city of Gastonia that they are considering going to a higher level," said Allison Harvey, town administrator. "Unless we get some additional rain, anything is possible."

Stage 4 would have a major impact, she said. The town would force commercial car washes to stop operations and limit the amount of water that people could use. All outdoor irrigation would be prohibited. People would be charged extra for water they use that exceeds the limit.


York only has three stages of water restrictions and is currently on Stage 2, which limits irrigation to one day a week, matching restrictions used by Rock Hill, said Charles Helms, interim city manager.

Helms said York will go to its final stage if Rock Hill goes to Stage 4.

"The last stages are really rough," Helms said, adding York's Stage 3 restrictions are similar to the county's Stage 4 mandates.

York purchases some water from Rock Hill, and Helms said it's only fair that the city follow similar rules.

If Stage 4 water restrictions are enacted, all nonessential watering will be eliminated, including all outdoor watering. Voluntary restrictions, such as running laundry only with full loads, will continue to be encouraged. Commercial and industrial users may be placed on activity schedules and contingency plans and Duke Energy -- along with county and municipal leaders -- would take steps to protect health and public safety, provide drinking water and electricity.