Governor declares drought, town water supplies OK

by Kate Shunney & Trish Rudder

Rain over the last few days provided some relief for growing drought conditions in the area, but have not made up for the lack of precipitation throughout the summer.

Morgan County has been under a statewide outdoor burn ban for close to three weeks, and Gov. Jim Justice last week declared a State of Emergency for all 55 West Virginia counties due to a prolonged shortage of rainfall that has caused moderate drought conditions across much of the state and severe drought conditions in southern West Virginia.

Statewide, over the past 90 days, West Virginia has received 2-5 inches less rainfall than normal, with some pockets of 5-7-inch rainfall deficits across the southern half of the state.

As a result, numerous rivers, lakes, and streams are experiencing extremely low water levels; lowering harvest amounts, limiting water supplies for livestock, and increasing the risk of forest fires, among other potential dangers.

Drought conditions in all 55 counties are forecast to escalate, state officials said.

A state drought map. Yellow areas have dry conditions, while darker orange areas are suffering drought conditions.

As part of the State of Emergency, the Governor has directed state officials to:

–Implement the West Virginia Emergency Operations Plan as it relates to drought emergency response.

–Place the state Emergency Operations Center in a stand-by status, unless activation is deemed necessary and appropriate.

–Restrict the use of water for the purposes of dust control at construction and industrial sites, except as required under terms of permits issued for the same.

–Monitor existing water sources for the presence of contaminants, including harmful algae blooms, which tend to propagate more readily in warmer and shallower waters.

Gov. Justice has also issued voluntary guidelines for the residents of West Virginia to:

–Cease non-agricultural irrigation in the state, including those for strictly recreational purposes.

–Limit washing or cleaning vehicles and/or structures where not otherwise required by law.

–Limit use of public drinking water systems to minimal standards for good personal hygiene, food preparation, laundry, livestock, and pets, and other reasonable purposes.

–Cease the filling of private swimming pools.

The State of Emergency will remain in effect until rescinded by further proclamation.

Local monitoring

Dick Myers, director of Morgan County’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, has been providing daily updates to the state Emergency Operations Center on local conditions.

Myers said he hasn’t heard of any local issues tied to the dry weather that pose an emergency here. He has asked the 911 center about calls for outdoor burning and brush fire activity.

“Everybody seems like they’re adhering to the call to ban burning,” he said. “It’s basically a situational awareness at this point.”

Myers noted that in heavily agricultural counties nearby, such as Hardy and Hampshire counties, farmers have faced the challenge of making sure they have enough water to supply to their livestock.

Local public water supplies are still at a normal level, according to Berkeley Springs Water Works officials.

“As of right now water conservation is on a voluntary basis,” said Ron Jainniney, plant manager of Berkeley Springs Water Works, of the drought proclamation.

He said the department levels and pressures are at normal levels.

“If a mandatory conservation plan is needed, we will implement it. We are keeping a close eye on the situation,” Jainniney said.

The Berkeley Springs Water Works is a public water system serving about 1,400 customers.

Paw Paw mayor Darlene Abe said public water supplies in Paw Paw are not a problem, and she hopes recent rains will keep it that way.