The winter rains have replenished Lake Wylie, but stream flows are still well below normal and drought induced water restrictions are likely to remain in effect for the foreseeable future, according to local officials.
"Even though it is prime planting season and we've had some rain, there are still no changes to the water restrictions," Fort Mill Town Manager David Hudspeth said. "We're still at level three drought."
The water level in Lake Wylie, while not at full pond, is still 17 percent above what it usually is this time of year, according to Rock Hill Utilities Director Jimmy Bagley. Rock HIll Supplies water to Fort Mill and York County. Duke Energy usually keeps the lake levels below full pond during the winter to allow winter and spring rains to refill the reservoirs. But the lake is only part of the equation.
"The bad news is, the stream flow is only 38 percent of normal," he said.
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The stream flow is a six-month average of water flowing in local streams that feed Lake Wylie and the Catawba River. The ground water tables are still low as well, though they are starting to move in the right direction, Bagley said.
"The lakes are about where they were this time last year," Bagley said. "But the water table was up and the stream flows were at 100 percent."
If the rains stop, the area could easily slide back into stage four drought in a matter of months, he added. The Charlotte region closed out 2007 with 18 inches less rain than average.
The recent rains left monthly totals slightly ahead of average, but still down at least 15 inches when taking the 2007 rainfall into account.
"We're all saying we need to hold (water restrictions) a little while longer, because if the rains don't come we're in real trouble," Bagley said.
Fort Mill is encouraging developers and homeowners not to plant new landscaping because they won't be able to water it.
"You still can't use any mechanical irrigation," Hudspeth said. "You can plant but you'll have to rely on the rain to water it."
Like Fort Mill, Tega Cay takes its drought-related cues from Rock Hill and the city is keeping its months-long restrictions in place.
Water managers like Bagley are beginning to work with local governments to change parts of the restrictions to allow drip irrigation systems, which concentrate a steady drip of water on a specific point, usually at the base of trees and shrubs, because it uses far less water than sprinklers and they see environmental benefits in saving trees. Currently, the restrictions make no exception for drip irrigation systems, but hand watering is allowed.
Bagley is working on a series of videos in conjunction with county plant nurseries about installing and using drip systems. They should be available on the Web soon at www.cityofrockhill.com, he said. "It will take some council votes. We need long-term investments in conservation."
Besides updating water restriction language, Bagley is also working with planning and zoning officials to update landscaping ordinances to include meters and rain sensors on irrigation systems. Changes to the water rate structure are also being considered.