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Drought 2012: Water supplies begin to drop

(4/18) A general deficit of rainfall, combined with the lack of significant snowfall over the winter, has begun to impact available water supplies in the area.

This could quickly translate into burn bans, less water available for natural growth and agriculture, and water use restrictions.

Emmitsburg Town Manager David Haller information the board of commissioners at their April 16 meeting that the community’s available water supplies have already dropped.

"Our wells are now averaging about 4.6 feet below their May 2011 levels," Haller stated. "We are in a drought."

During March, the Emmitsburg area received 2.3 inches of precipitation, the average being around 3.9 inches. The March rainfall is but part of a pattern that has been persistent over the past six months. "We have a precipitation deficit of 2.9 inches (spread) over the last six months," Haller said.

While the official April numbers would not be available until May, the town manager noted that the wells have already dropped an additional two feet since the end of May.

The Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services lifted an open burning ban on April 15 that had been declared on April 6, but county Fire Marshal Michael P. Dmuchowski advised, "All residents and business need to continue to exercise caution when conducting open burning in the outdoors and never leave a fire unattended."

Adams County, however, has been placed under an open burn ban by county Fire Marshal Glenn K. Herring effective April 14. The ban includes campfires and fires at campgrounds, as well as all other properties.

Herring stated that the ban has been put into effect "due to the dry conditions in the woodland areas," and will remain in effect until, further notice.

Burning in a burn barrel will still be allowed if the individual conducting the burn employs a wire mesh cover and maintains a 10-foot cleared area around the barrel. Outdoor gas and charcoal grills are also permitted if they are not located near wooded areas.

Individuals planning to conduct an open burn are also advised to contact their local municipalities, who may have enacted their own burn bans or regulations governing them.

Cara Baugher, Penn State Extension tree fruit educator, said, under the current developing water supply situation, growers need to avoid causing stress to the fruit trees by not adequately thinning a percentage of the growing fruit on each tree.

Planting new trees can also be challenging under drought conditions, she said, but in this area newly planted trees tend to be "trickle irrigated" to help ensure they have adequate water to help them to become established. The older trees also benefit by being deep-rooted, and are thus generally drawing on water deeper in the aquifer.

She said it could be another month before any adverse impact a water shortage might have on the upcoming fruit crop could be accessed.

As groundwater levels drop, municipalities may also be faced with water use restrictions,

Emmitsburg already has a year-round limitations on water use in use in place as of March 7, 2011, but could impose further restrictions if a drought condition would intensify.

The current regulations in place only allow the watering of lawns, shrubs, flowers, and gardens between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. during any given day of week.

Residents of various municipalities should stay alert to any restrictions that might be imposed on their respective communities.

Perhaps the only upside to a drought occurs at a 140-acre farm outside of Emmitsburg where the excavation of a 220 million year old prehistoric lake is an on-going process.

"The work on some of the most important layers at the moment depends on drought-like conditions because the layers are normally submerged partially underwater in a creek bed," said Cathe Curtis, Gettysburg, who is in charge of the actual recovery and preparation of prehistoric remains at the Rocky Ridge site.

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