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Environment & Energy

27 Pennsylvania Counties Still Under Drought Watch

The United States Geological Survey
via the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Not much has improved five weeks after the Department of Environmental Protection declared a drought watch for 27 Pennsylvania counties.

Amanda Witman, DEP spokeswomen, said all of the original counties remain on a drought watch.

She said the DEP assembled a drought watch taskforce that pays attention to the four metrics that determine drought – precipitation, soil moisture, surface water and groundwater.

“What we’re seeing by and large in the state is many counties, specifically in the Pittsburgh area, with large deficiencies in their ground water levels,” Witman said.

The DEP cited a very dry fall and below-normal precipitation in January and February for the low levels.

Witman said the four metrics are measured by four levels of severity: normal, watch, warning and emergency.

“Specifically in several Pittsburgh area counties – including Westmoreland, Indiana and Cambria – we are at a warning level for groundwater,” Witman said.  “The other three metrics are at a normal level.”

She said the issue stems from the amount of time it takes for groundwater recharge. In fact, the DEP said the levels might not return to normal before summer.

“It’s not like precipitation, soil moisture or surface water whereby the rain falls, and those levels are raised pretty much immediately,” Witman said. “Groundwater recharge takes several days if not weeks after a precipitation event.”

According to the DEP, this could cause well-fed water supplies to go dry.

However, Witman did provide some tips to help individual residents conserve water.

“We encourage folks to use water conservation measures whenever possible,” she said. “Consider installing aerators on your faucet, fixing leaks around the house, making sure that you’re not running water at times when you don’t necessarily need to, and so on and so forth.”

On a larger scale, the DEP told all of the water suppliers in these counties to monitor their supplies and update their drought contingency plans as necessary.