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DEP Declares Drought Watch for 15 Western Pennsylvania Counties

The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a drought watch aimed at individuals and water suppliers in 15 Western Pennsylvania counties (Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset, Venango, Warren and Washington), calling for a voluntary five percent reduction in nonessential water use.

Precipitation this year was normal until about April, said Joe Palko, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, but now groundwater, reservoirs, rivers and sample wells are low.

Palko said the Army Corps of Engineers indicates 60% of the water now flowing past the Point is from reservoirs, not natural waterflow. "If those reservoirs weren't releasing all that water, the river would be really low. Back in the days before the locks and dams, there'd be times at the Point in Pittsburgh where you could really walk across the river."

Even so, according to Palko, conditions are far from historical lows and could be mitigated by rainfall a little higher than usual—and preferably of the gentle sort that the ground absorbs best.

A drought watch is the least severe of three drought classifications—the others being a drought warning and a drought emergency.