Lack of precipitation a major factor
Despite the recent precipitation events, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is maintaining a drought watch for 27 counties across Pennsylvania because parts of the state have below-average groundwater and, in some areas, surface water levels.
"We are still recovering from a very dry fall and below-normal precipitation this winter," Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley said. "These factors have contributed to low groundwater and surface water levels mostly in the northeast and central portions of the state."
The 27 counties under the drought watch are Berks, Bradford, Cambria, Carbon, Clinton, Columbia, Indiana, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Luzerne, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Monroe, Montour, Northumberland, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wayne, Westmoreland and Wyoming.
The lack of groundwater recharge can cause well-fed water supplies, both private and public, to go dry. All Pennsylvanians are advised to heed this drought watch by conserving their water use and consumption.
To reduce water use, residents can:
- Run water only when absolutely necessary by avoiding running water while brushing teeth or turning on the shower many minutes before use
- Check for household leaks; a leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gal of water a day
- Run dishwashers and washing machines only with full loads
- Use a broom, not a hose, to clean driveways, steps and sidewalks
- Wash the car with water from a bucket; if a hose is used, control the flow with an automatic shut off nozzle
- Set sprinklers to water the lawn or garden only, do not water the street or sidewalk
- Use soaker hoses and trickle irrigation systems to reduce the amount of water used by 20% to 50%
- Mulch around shrubs and garden plants to reduce evaporation from the soil and inhibit weeds
- Plant native plants that require less care and water than ornamental varieties
- Cover swimming pools to prevent evaporation
- Adjust the lawn mower to a higher setting to provide natural ground shade and to promote water retention by the soil
DEP has notified all water suppliers in the affected areas of the need to monitor their supplies, particularly those that rely upon groundwater, and update their drought contingency plans as necessary.
A drought watch declaration is the first and least-severe level of the state's three drought classifications. It calls for a voluntary 5% reduction in non-essential water use.
Through a cooperative program with the U.S. Geological Survey, DEP helps fund a statewide network of gauges to monitor groundwater levels and stream flows. This network provides the state's drought coordinator with comprehensive data that is used to determine drought classifications. In addition to precipitation, groundwater and stream flow levels, DEP monitors soil moisture and water supply storage. This data is shared with other state and federal agencies.
DEP also offers water conservation recommendations and water audit procedures for commercial and industrial users, such as food processors, hotels and educational institutions.