High temps, low rainfall put Lowcountry near drought

June 2, 2011 

  • Here are some tips from the Clemson University Extension Service about responsible irrigation:

  • Water lawns and other plants only when they show signs of stress and during the early morning; avoid watering midday when temperatures are high.

  • Calibrate sprinklers to apply one-half to three-fourths an inch of water per application.

  • Mow lawns high to encourage a deeper, more drought- and pest-tolerant root system; cut no more than one-third the height of grass blades.

  • Put a rain gauge in your yard to track rainfall to avoid unnecessary watering.

  • Connect an automatic rain shutoff device to your sprinkler system's timer and set the device to a half-inch.

  • Use a drip or micro-spray irrigation system to more efficiently water plant and flower beds.

  • Landscape irrigation is limited to the following days for all customers within the town limits:

  • Single-family homes with even-numbered addresses -- Tuesdays and Saturdays only.

  • Single-family homes with odd-numbered addresses -- Wednesdays and Sundays only.

  • Commercial, office, institutional, hotels and motels on a separately platted lot of record -- Mondays and Thursdays only.

  • Common areas and locations having no street address, box number or rural route number -- Mondays and Thursdays only.

    Source: Town of Hilton Head Island Municipal Code Sec. 17-10-211

  • Above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall have caused Lowcountry lake and river levels to drop to near-drought conditions.

    The state's Drought Response Committee has declared every county in the state to be in an "incipient drought," which means there is a threat of drought.

    "The lack of rainfall coverage combined with the unseasonable hot weather has brought all counties into the first stage of drought," said state climatologist Hope Mizzell. "Over the last week, daily evaporation rates have reached as high as 0.4 inches."

    Long-range indicators show the potential for ongoing drought, Mizzell said.

    "Over the next six to 10 days, the forecast is calling for more of the same -- below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures," Mizzell said.

    Some areas of Beaufort and Jasper counties are 4.5 to 7 inches below normal rainfall for the year, according to AccuWeather.com. Temperatures have been about 8 to 9 degrees higher than usual for this time of year.

    Savannah River Basin lake levels have declined but have yet to reach drought stage. However, some streams are showing signs of drought, and the Salkehatchie River is in extreme drought, Mizzell said.

    "For right now, we have plenty of water in the (Savannah River) but do urge conservation from our users," said Matthew Brady, communications manager for the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority. "We don't anticipate issuing a mandatory conservation order ... but the drier we get, that creates more demand on our system. ... As we hit the wetter part of the summer in June and July, conditions may improve. Until then, we'll continue to monitor levels upstream."

    Pete Nardi, community relations manager for Hilton Head No. 1 Public Service District, said drought-like conditions underscore the importance of responsible irrigation of lawns and landscaping. The district buys treated Savannah River water from BJWSA and uses groundwater from the aquifer.

    "Now is the time to check your irrigation system and its settings to make sure that you are watering effectively and efficiently," Nardi said.

    The utility has used nearly all the reclaimed water it is producing to meet summer peak demand, which is fueled by the irrigation needs of 11 golf courses, he said.

    "Water demand, starting now and heading to July 4, will peak, and it peaks above what we see coming back into the plant from the sanitary sewer," Nardi said. "That's why looking at irrigation consumption is such a big deal here."

    The incipient drought status means the state is looking at its fourth round in 13 years of a plaguing, off-and-on drought. A drought from 1998 to 2002 dropped lake levels so low that the Edisto River in places was little more than rivulets and shallower areas of Lake Moultrie could be walked upon.

    The (Charleston) Post and Courier contributed to this report.

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