While Beaufort County slogged through an unusually wet summer with precipitation peaking in July, the Edisto River basin slowly dropped further and further into drought.
On Tuesday, the S.C. Drought Response Committee declared nine counties -- Edgefield, Aiken, Lexington, Barnwell, Allendale, Bamberg, Orangeburg, Hampton and Colleton -- to be in an incipient drought, the first of four levels in the state system. The Edisto and Salkehatchie rivers have been running low since early summer, with occasional rebounds after scattered thunderstorms.
Since June 1, Beaufort County has had 21 inches of rainfall, assistant state climatologist Wes Tyler said. With 10.9 inches of rainfall, July was the eighth wettest in Beaufort County since 1958 and the wettest since 1997, Tyler said.
However, in Aiken County, where rain is critical to river levels downstream on the Edisto, official rainfall during that same period was only 8.79 inches. The lack of rain has caused the river to flow at only 20 percent or less of its normal volume much of the summer.
Tuesday's announcement was the first drought declaration in the state since April 2013. Before this 18-month reprieve, parts of the state had been in drought for much of the previous dozen years.
"We may not have fully recovered from 12 years of drought in that basin," said state climatologist Hope Mizzell. "We had one wet year, 2013, and this year has not been wet in that area."
Major utility companies have reported no problems yet with water supply, but there have been scattered impacts on crops in the dry areas. Tyler said the first drought level is mostly a monitoring state, but droughts can cause problems with agriculture and irrigation, wildfires, and fish kills. Mizzell warned that October and November historically are the driest months in the state.
The (Columbia) State staff writer Joey Holleman contributed to this report.