By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Oct 21, 2017 | 12:00 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – It’s no secret that the past few months have been dry across the region, and the ongoing dry spell, coupled with warm temperatures has prompted state officials to issue a drought watch for a number of communities that surround Prince George County.
In a statement last week, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality representative Bill Hayden announced the agency’s drought watch “in response to existing conditions and to increase public awareness of the potential for a significant drought event” for number of localities and public water suppliers along the Middle James, Roanoke River, and Shenandoah drought evaluation regions.
Specifically, the Middle James River drought region includes Albemarle, Amelia, Amherst, Appomattox, Buckingham, Chesterfield, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, Nelson, Powhatan and Prince Edward counties, and the cities of Charlottesville, Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Lynchburg, Petersburg, and Richmond, with a number of those communities sharing borders with Prince George County.
According to Hayden, a drought watch advisory is intended to increase awareness of conditions that are likely to precede a significant drought event and to facilitate preparation for a drought. This advisory is being issued because drought watch indicators in the state’s Drought Assessment and Response Plan have been met.
For the Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force, an interagency group representing state and federal agencies, the primary factors contributing to the declaration of the drought advisory are, Precipitation totals are less than 75 percent of normal over the past 90 days and less than 25 percent of normal over the last 30 days across much of the areas covered by the Middle James, Roanoke River, and Shenandoah regions, stream flows are lower than 75 percent to 95 percent of recorded flows, indicating a moderate to severe hydrologic drought — a period of below-average water content in streams, aquifers, lakes, and soils, and groundwater levels are lower than 75 percent to 95 percent of previously recorded September and October levels.
According to DEQ’s data, for the Middle James River region, precipitation and groundwater levels are at a “watch” stage, while reservoir storage at large multi-purpose reservoirs or at water-supply reservoirs is at an “emergency stage.”
Additionally, the fourth data point for DEQ officials, streamflow, which is monitored at real-time stations “with a long-term period of record on streams that have moderately large drainage areas and no significant regulation of flow by dams or impoundments,” is in the agency’s highest level, “emergency.”
The rationale for the drought watch in parts of Central Virginia is supported by data from the United States Drought Monitor and recent numbers from the National Weather Service office in Wakefield.
In the U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest data as of this report, released on Thursday, Oct. 12, nearly two-thirds of the Commonwealth fall under “abnormally dry conditions,” with another four percent, mainly concentrated in counties bordering North Carolina, experiencing “moderate drought” conditions.
The week prior, only 42 percent of the state fell under the “abnormally dry” designation and when compared to one year ago, nearly 87 percent of the state was in the clear and not listed in any form of drought condition.
The dry conditions have not been helped by rainfall in the state. According to data from the National Weather Service, across much of the Dinwiddie, Prince George, Tri-Cities, and points north and west within the Wakefield office’s coverage area saw between a hundredth of an inch to less than two inches of rainfall through the entire month of September, which is well off the rainfall seen during September of last year, when much of the area saw between six to ten inches of rain, while Sussex, Surry, and points southeast saw over a foot of rain, mainly due to the remnants of Hurricane Hermine.
At their climate center in Richmond, officials recorded only an inch-and-a-half of rain through the entirety of September, over two and a half inches off the normal for the month, with only three days of the month featuring rain weather conditions, with most of that rainfall falling on Sept. 1, meaning from Sept. 2 through the end of the month, only six-tenths of an inch of rain was recorded.
While September was dry, it wasn’t the driest on record, according to NWS’ data. In 2005, that weather station only recorded eight-hundredths-of-an-inch of rain for the entire month.
While Dinwiddie, Prince George and points south to the Virginia-North Carolina border and points southeast through Southampton County, known as the Chowan drought evaluation region are still within the normal range, one above “watch,” According to Hayden, “DEQ is sending notifications to all local governments, public water works and private sector water users in the affected areas, and is requesting that they prepare for the onset of a drought event by developing or reviewing existing water conservation and drought response plans.”
“Through the drought watch advisory, Virginia is encouraging localities, public and private water suppliers, and self-supplied water users in the affected localities to voluntarily take these steps to help protect current water supplies, such as minimizing nonessential water use, reviewing existing or develop new local water conservation and drought contingency plans and take conservation actions consistent with those plans, including water conservation information on local websites and distributing water conservation information to the public as broadly as possible.”
He added that localities are asked to, “Continue monitoring the condition of public waterworks and self-supplied water systems in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health, impose water use restrictions when consistent with local water supply conditions, and aggressively pursue leak detection and repair programs.”
As of this report, the Appomattox River Water Authority, or ARWA, which provides water to customers in Chesterfield, Dinwiddie and Prince George Counties, and the cities of Petersburg and Colonial Heights, have not formally issued any form of water restrictions for its customers, but they do offer an extensive list of things customers can do to reduce the amount of water they are using on their website at http://arwava.org/waterconservation.
The authority just finished its annual “Chesdin WaterWise Conservation Measures,” which placed voluntary water conservation reductions in place between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with customers being asked to observe those conservation efforts.
According to ARWA, their Chesdin Reservoir is currently 11 inches or nine-tenths of a foot below its full level of 157.2 feet, as of Oct. 13.
“The next stage after a drought watch would be a ‘drought warning,’ which would be issued if conditions warrant,” Hayden said. “Drought warning responses are required when the onset of a significant drought event is imminent. Water conservation and contingency plans that are already in place or have been prepared during a drought watch stage would begin to be implemented. Water conservation activities at this drought watch stage generally would be voluntary. This does not preclude localities from issuing mandatory restrictions if appropriate.”