The committee increased the severity level of drought conditions in Beaufort, Jasper and 24 other counties from "incipient" to "moderate" to raise awareness about conserving water and preventing wildfires, state climatologist Hope Mizzell said. The committee monitors rainfall, stream flow and lake levels to make its classifications.
All other counties remained in incipient status, meaning there is a threat of drought because of below-average rainfall, according to a state Department of Natural Resources news release.
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Over the past 30 days, Beaufort County's rainfall has been half its historical average, with only two inches of rain, Mizzell said.
The committee has asked water systems and suppliers to review their drought-response plans, but so far, there have been few reports of water shortages, Mizzell said.
"Upgrading the drought status to moderate is mainly to increase awareness and urge everyone to be wise stewards of water," Mizzell said. "We also want them to be aware that forest fire potential is increasing, and it certainly makes a difference when people are cautious about any outdoor burning activities."
The Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority reported Thursday that its water levels are adequate, but customers should still conserve, a habit that also will save them money. Residents should water lawns and plants in the morning and evening when temperatures are cooler, run washing machines and dishwashers only when they are full, and reduce shower times by a minute or two, according to a news release from the authority.
Earlier this week the authority asked customers on the sea islands of northern Beaufort County to cut water consumption to maintain optimal water pressure. The area is experiencing higher-than-normal demand because of high temperatures, agricultural activity and an influx of visitors to the resort areas, according to communications manager Matthew Brady.
After the announcement of the county's moderate drought status, Brady said the authority decided to emphasize water conservation.
"We're in no danger of running out of water, it's just a good time to remind people to conserve," he said.Statewide, the increase in wildfires has taken a toll on firefighters with the S.C. Forestry Commission. They have responded to more fires in the first two weeks of June than they usually do during the entire month, the DNR news release said.
The lack of rain and high temperatures are affecting crop production statewide, and irrigation systems can't make up the deficit, the release said.
The state Drought Response Committee will reconvene in a month, or sooner if needed, to reevaluate drought conditions.