By Karen Cimms,
The Times News, © 2002

March 1, 2002

Pursuant to Gov. Mark S. Schweiker’s declaration of a drought emergency in Carbon County and 23 other counties earlier this month, Carbon commissioners have begun to appoint people to serve on a drought task force.

On Thursday the commissioners announced seven individuals to serve on the task force, and said they were trying to make contact with another individual. Commissioner Wayne Nothstein said there will be at least one more appointment, but more could follow.

The commissioners say they intend to appoint people to the task force who are knowledgeable about groundwater and conservation efforts. Appointed on Thursday were Jim Slinsky, Jim Thorpe, outdoors writer; Fred Osifat, Tresckow, director of the county’s office of planning and development; Clark Shoenberger, Palmerton, farmer; Scott Moyer, Lehighton, well driller; Frank Waksmunski, Palmerton, member and founder of Carbon County Groundwater Guardians; Scott Forster, Nesquehoning, Carbon County Emergency Management Agency coordinator; and Commissioner Tom Gerhard, Weatherly.

While Gerhard was the only commissioner officially named to the task force, he pointed out Nothstein and Commissioner Charles Getz will also be involved.

Nothstein said the first meeting of the task force should be scheduled sometime within the next couple weeks.

In the meantime, Forster has sent letters to county water authorities asking them to update their contingency plans. “Hopefully by the time the committee gets to meet, we will have some information already,” says Nothstein.

In addition to updating the drought contingency plans, Forster asked the water authorities and water companies in the county what their water level is in their public wells and how it compares to their normal levels; and what the levels are for their reservoirs, if they are able to determine it. He also requested water suppliers notify him if they hear of any public or private wells going dry, and if they have issued any citations on improper or illegal water usage. Forster spoke with hydrologists at the National Weather Service on Thursday and was told Carbon County is 10.1 inches low on rainfall over the past 365 days.

“Not only do we have to catch up on the rainfall that we didn’t get,” says Forster, “but we have to add in the rainfall we aren’t getting. Right now, I’d be happy if we got a couple of inches.”

The Pennsylvania code requires the county to form a drought management task force in response to the drought emergency declaration. The task force reviews certain water supplier and municipal/county emergency operations plans.

Each water supplier is required to review its existing drought and water shortage contingency plan, develop a plan if none exists, and submit the plan to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The contingency plan may contain the adoption of local water rationing plans if considered necessary to meet local conditions. It also serves as the clearing house for all county requests to the state for drought-related assistance and support.

Carbon County last formed a drought task force in July of 1999. It all but dissolved six weeks later when Hurricane Floyd dumped over five inches of rain on the county on Sept. 17. In addition to Carbon County, a drought emergency has been declared in several other TIMES NEWS area counties, including Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, and Schuylkill.

Low amounts of rainfall last summer and fall and little snowfall this winter have caused record-low stream and groundwater levels. Officials are especially concerned about private, residential water wells.

In declaring the drought emergency Gov. Schweiker asked all Pennsylvania residents to reduce water usage by 10 to 15 percent and conserve in any way possible.

“If conditions do not improve, and we do not work together to conserve water, we could face the worst drought in our state’s history by spring.”