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Drought is spreading across South Carolina. What it means in York, Lancaster, Chester

Even amid rain early Wednesday morning, drought is spreading across South Carolina.

The South Carolina Drought Response Committee upgraded the drought status of 33 counties when it met Monday. The group will meet again in three weeks to update conditions.

Chester County is one of 24 statewide now listed in moderate drought. It’s the second tier of four categories ranging from incipient to moderate, severe and extreme. A block of counties in the center of the state, toward its western edge, show moderate conditions. So do several mid-state counties to the far east.

York and Lancaster counties rank among 20 statewide facing incipient drought. York and Lancaster maintained that status Monday. Nine counties statewide were added to that list.

Only two counties, Charleston and Berkeley along the coast, fall in normal, drought-free conditions. So far no counties make the severe or extreme listings.

The U.S. Drought Monitor lists its status not in counties, but it areas similar to a weather map. As of Aug. 8 the lower half of York and upper half of Chester counties registered abnormally dry conditions. So did the middle portion of Lancaster County. That level is the first of five in the federal system, related to severity.

The drought monitor estimated then there were more than 244,000 people in South Carolina living in drought conditions.

Below normal rainfall and summer heat, along with impacts to crops and pastures statewide, were driving factors in raising the drought category for so many counties. Beef cattle producers are, according to the drought group, liquidating cattle herds or feeding spring harvest hay due to extremely dry pastures.

Hydrologists show a different outlook. Health department water monitoring experts report water systems aren’t reporting supply issues. Stream flow levels have declined steadily the past month, but lakes remain near target levels after significant rainfall last winter.

As the drought committee met, Lake Wylie actually sat just above its target level.

Even in wet months this area has seen its share of water concerns.

Blue Granite Water Company put outdoor water use restrictions in place for Lake Wylie just before Memorial Day. Those restrictions remain in place, despite at times near flood level rains in the area, at least through October.

In June, Tega Cay asked its residents to start voluntarily conserving water. Both the Lake Wylie and Tega Cay conservation efforts related to high water use demand as much as, and often more than, dry weather itself.

Just last week, Fort Mill asked its residents to start conserving water. That notice listed ongoing work to expand the Rock Hill water filter plant on Cherry Road, which takes some water distribution services offline temporarily. Rock Hill draws water from Lake Wylie, and distributes it to York County, Fort Mill and Tega Cay. York County sends it to its customers, along with Blue Granite which then serves Lake Wylie.

The National Weather Service didn’t report any rain in the Rock Hill area from the state drought committee’s meeting until early Wednesday morning. The airport in Rock Hill collected .13 inches of precipitation, all of it between 2 and 4 a.m.

The Lancaster airport Wednesday morning reported .18 inches of rain the past seven days, all of it in the past 24 hours.

Chester County, the furthest along in the drought status listing, registered the most rainfall at its airport. An afternoon thunderstorm Tuesday and early morning storms Wednesday combined for .4 inches of rain.

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