LAKE WYLIE -- Boaters had a good day here Friday, and they're hoping it will last.
Five of the six public access areas on Lake Wylie now have open ramps, up from one during the height of the drought last fall. The lake level is more than 3 feet above its lowest point in October, and the minimum water level needed to cover water intakes, which serve businesses and municipalities, is above the target for this time of year.
But, experts say, those indicators do not mean the drought is finished.
"We're grateful for the rainfall we've had," said Marilyn Lineberger, spokeswoman for Duke Energy. "We're saving every drop of rain we can. Unless we get more rain these next few months, we'll start to see these lake levels go back down."
Last year ended 18 inches below average rainfall for the Catawba River basin. January finished below its average 3.5 inches, and it appeared Friday that February would, too.
Duke now estimates that it could be August before more severe water restrictions are imposed. The area is under Stage 3 restrictions, which limit outdoor water use, car washing and irrigation. Only time will tell if restrictions are increased or eased.
"That's really more of a wait and see," Lineberger said. "If we could have had more rain in January and February, that would have been a little easier to predict."
'Glad the water's coming up'
As of Friday, boat ramps at Buster Boyd, Allison Creek, Nivens Creek, South Point and Ebenezer Park access areas were open for use under caution. Two of the four ramps at Allison Creek, three of the six ramps at South Point and both ramps at Copperhead Island remained closed.
"I'm glad they're open, glad the water's coming up," said Charles Curry of Kings Mountain, N.C. "This is our hometown lake."
Curry and a friend put in Friday at Buster Boyd and fished, something he didn't do during the summer and fall when only the Nivens Creek ramp was open.
Bob Gunsch, a retired forest ranger now living in Fort Mill, visits or fishes the Nivens Creek access area every day. Now that other ramps are open, he's hoping some of the traffic at Nivens will go elsewhere.
"This one was packed," he said. "There wasn't a place to park."
The lake level Friday was more than a foot below the target level.
Duke officials say Stage 4 restrictions would be imposed if the 18 municipal water intakes, along with commercial and industrial intakes, are threatened.
"Basically in that stage, Duke is saying all bets are off and we can't guarantee your intakes aren't going to be uncovered," Jeff Lineberger said.
Duke would restrict its own water use even more, and municipalities could ration water and eliminate nonessential water use.
Rainfall will determine the restrictions, and Duke, along with municipal users, does not want to lessen restrictions only to crank them back up with more dry weather, said Jeff Lineberger.
"You've got to have a balance between how quickly you move into water restrictions and how quickly you move back out of them or you're going to lose the people who control it -- the homeowner," he said.
Andrew Kimball, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Greenville, said they can't predict what to expect for March through June. Weather patterns from La Nina, he said, typically produce drier and warmer conditions.
"They're not predicting a particularly wet or dry season," Kimball said.
WATER RESTRICTIONS STILL IN EFFECT
Water customers in York County are prohibited from:
• Using sprinklers, irrigation systems or other remote landscape watering devices.
• Residential washing of vehicles and outdoor structures, sidewalks, driveways parking lots or other surfaces.
• Planting of new ornamental plants, seeding or sodding of lawns.
• Water for fountains, reflective pools or decorative water bodies. Hand-watering of plants using a low-volume spray is allowed, though runoff is prohibited.
• In Rock Hill, violators will face fines beginning at $50. To report a violation or learn more, call the water hotline at (803) 326-2450.