The Lead

DEP: Nearly half of Pa. counties in drought watch

By: - October 28, 2020 2:20 pm

DEP graphic on current drought declarations. (Screen capture).

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection added Columbia County to its list of more than two dozen counties currently under  a drought watch.

The list of counties in a drought watch now includes: Armstrong, Blair, Bradford, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Columbia, Cumberland, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Warren, and Wyoming counties.

Clinton, McKean and Potter counties are under drought warnings. 

These drought watches and warnings mark the first in several years in many parts of the state. The longest duration drought lasted 68 weeks, spanning from July 31, 2001 to Nov. 12, 2002. 

Currently, 25 percent of Pennsylvania’s population live in drought areas. That’s 3,221,000  Pennsylvanians, according to the U.S. Drought Portal. Another 3,009,000 live in abnormally dry areas.

The DEP issued 10 recommendations for residents to reduce their water usage: 

  • Run water only when necessary. Don’t let the faucet run while brushing your teeth or shaving. Shorten the time you let the water run to warm up before showering. Use a bucket to catch the water and reuse it to water your plants.
  • Run the dishwasher and washing machine only with full loads.
  • When watering your garden, be efficient and effective: Water in the evening or morning, and direct the water to the ground at the base of the plant, so you don’t waste water through evaporation.
  • If you water your lawn, water it only when necessary, and avoid watering on windy and hot days. Apply no more than 1 inch of water per week (use an empty can to determine how long it takes to water 1 inch). This pattern will encourage more healthy, deep grass roots. Over-watering is wasteful, encourages fungal growth and disease, and results in shallow, compacted root systems that are more susceptible to drought.
  • Re-use old water from bird baths, vases, or pet bowls to water plants.
  • When mowing your lawn, set the blades to 2-3 inches high. Longer grass shades the soil, improving moisture retention. It also grows thicker and develops a deeper root system, so it can better survive drought.
  • Check for household leaks. For example, a leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water daily.
  • Sweep your sidewalk, deck, or driveway, rather than hosing it off.
  • Replace older appliances with high-efficiency, front-loading models that use about 30 percent less water and 40-50 percent less energy.
  • Install low-flow plumbing fixtures and aerators on faucets.

The state agency makes its drought watch, warning and emergency declaration recommendations based on the normal ranges of four numeric indicators, assessing the departure of those levels from normal ranges by monitoring precipitation and soil moisture, stream flow, groundwater level and information from public water suppliers.

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