Water levels on Lake Wylie that rose in the spring are falling again as rain slows to a trickle, stunting some crops and farmers' hopes of a more promising summer.
"It's really severe," said farmer Pete Wilson, a member of the family that owns Cotton Hills Farm in the Lowrys community of Chester County. "It's been two months since it's rained over half an inch."
The lake, which was at 2 feet below full pond in early April, was down more than 3 feet below full pond Friday, a side effect of May and June's 90- and 100-degree days, according to Duke Energy.
Rainfall for the year is about 9 inches below average for the region, and weather forecasts call for below-average rainfall for the rest of the summer.
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However, the region's Drought Management Advisory Group is not recommending a halt to outdoor watering. The group issued a statement this week that it continues to support lawn watering once a week in the Catawba region.
Julie Fox, owner of Wilson's Nursery in Rock Hill, said sales of landscaping items are slowing after a brisk spring, but they're about average for June. However, she said, customers are making more drought-conscious plant choices.
"People ask now, 'What can take the heat? What do I not have to water every day?'" Fox said. "We sold out of lantana -- this is probably the first time we've ever sold out of lantana -- which is more drought tolerant. It loves the heat."
Wilson said the cotton and corn on his family's 1,000-acre farm have been stunted by the lack of rain and could perish if they don't see rain soon.
"We have a lot of cotton," said Wilson, who owns and operates the farm with his father, Jeff Wilson, and his brother, Jeb. "Right now, it's really short and it's just really in need of rain.
"I would say if we don't get a significant amount of rain within the next couple of weeks, the cotton and corn is going to be a complete disaster," he said.
The farm grows other fruits and vegetables, including peaches and strawberries, and it has a roadside stand, the Market at Cotton Hill Farm. He said the peaches and vegetables are doing well because those crops have irrigation. The cotton and corn do not get irrigation, he said.
Wilson said this year's drought conditions seem to be worse than last summer, when the drought began, because the lack of rain has started earlier in the season.
"Things could turn around," Wilson said. "But at this point in time, if we don't start getting serious rain, it's going to be much more severe than it was last year."
Since June 2007, the region is about 18 inches below normal rainfall, said Andrew Kimball, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. This weekend could bring some relief, as forecasters expect afternoon and evening thunderstorms.