18 counties now under drought watch, one more under drought warning, DEP says

By: - September 11, 2020 6:30 am

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

While western states such as California, Oregon and Washington battle wildfires, Pennsylvania is issuing drought watches for 18 of the state’s 67 counties — and a drought warning for one more. 

The counties included in the drought watch are: Armstrong, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Fayette, Huntingdon, Indiana, Juniata, Lycoming, McKean, Mifflin, Perry, and Tioga counties. 

Northern-tier Potter County has been moved from drought watch to warning.

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, 394,000 Pennsylvanias are living in drought conditions. Another 2,432,000 reside in abnormally dry areas, according to the U.S. Drought Portal. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is asking residents of these counties to reduce their water usage. 

“We’re asking residents in these counties to use water wisely and follow simple water conservation tips to ease the demand for water,” Secretary Patrick McDonnell said.

In counties listed as in a drought watch, DEP officials are asking residents to reduce their individual water use by 5-10 percent or three-to-six gallons of water per day. 

In Potter County, residents are asked to decrease their water usage by 10-15 percent, or six-to-nine gallons, per- day. 

The DEP also provided 10 recommendations to reduce 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. 

Despite the drought watches and warnings, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has not issued any burn bans, as of yet. 

In late August, Jefferson County, which is not listed on the drought watch list, implemented a countywide burn ban for 30 days following dry conditions. 

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.