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No rain in sight, but not officially a drought

Officials say water supplies fine for now

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News Thu Sep 09, 2010, 08:01 AM EDT

— CUMBERLAND — An order to release additional water from Jennings Randolph Reservoir to augment drinking water in the Washington metropolitan area could come at any time, according to a spokesman for the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.

“The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments could in a day or so declare a drought watch,” said Curtis Dalpra, the commission’s communication officer, on Wednesday.

Such a declaration triggers releases of water — already paid for by urban utility companies — from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment near Elk Garden, W.Va. Since July, only 120 or so cubic feet of water per second has been let out of the reservoir, according to the U.S. Geological Survey webpage.

One exception to that was the last weekend of August — designated for whitewater rafting — when flows increased to about 1,000 cfs for two days.

“That wave of water dissipates long before it reaches the metro area,” Dalpra said.

In spite of the lengthy period without rain, Dalpra does not anticipate any mandatory water use restrictions throughout the basin.

“Water supply will be adequate throughout this year no matter what happens from here on out,” he said.

Locally, drinking water does not appear to be in jeopardy.

In Frostburg, for example, City Administrator John Kirby reports that the liquid larder is not a concern.

“We have been talking about the situation every Tuesday morning at staff meetings and we are in very good shape,” Kirby said.

“Piney Reservoir level is dropping a foot a week, but we have substantial amounts of reserves there. Our springs and wells on Big Savage Mountain continue to produce 200,000 gallons a day.”

Stream flows are 10 to 25 percent of normal amounts for this time of year. Wills Creek at Cumberland had just 14 cfs Wednesday. The North Branch of the Potomac at Cumberland was at 173 cfs.

“We just can’t seem to pull any storms into our area,” said local weather observer Tim Thomas. “For example, last night it rained enough to stop the Pirates game in Pittsburgh and we didn’t get a drop.”

Since May, rainfall has been well below average, For example, the 1.45 inches in June was 2.33 inches off the norm for that month. July was down another .44 inches.

“It is going to take one of the tropical storms moving inland to change our situation, but looking ahead 14 days it is still dry,” Thomas said.

Agriculture officials and farmers say hot, dry weather is killing pastures, stunting hay crops and drying up water for livestock in parts of West Virginia.

Alfred Lewis with the federal Farm Service Agency said some farmers have been feeding winter hay to livestock already.

Mineral County farmer Donnie Alt said he’s bringing water to livestock that normally drink from creeks that have gone dry. He adds that dry weather has hurt corn crops and he expects smaller yields as a result.

Despite dry weather, none of West Virginia’s 55 counties has been declared a disaster area. Federal law requires severe drought for eight straight weeks for a county to be eligible for assistance.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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