By Karen Cimms, kcimms@tnonline.com
The Times News, © 2002

February 13, 2002

Carbon County is one of 24 counties where a drought emergency has been declared. Gov. Mark S. Schweiker made the declaration on Tuesday for two dozen counties in eastern and southern Pennsylvania. He is asking residents to reduce water usage by 10 to 15 percent.

“I urge all Pennsylvanians to do their part to conserve water in every way they can,” Schweiker said. “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.”

Schweiker also declared a drought emergency in several other TIMES NEWS area counties, including Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, and Schuylkill. Seven counties remain in a drought warning, and 31 are under a drought watch. Schweiker said low amounts of rainfall last summer and fall and little snowfall this winter caused record-low stream and groundwater levels. Wells are running dry and 71 public water systems across the state are operating under voluntary or mandatory water restrictions. “We are particularly concerned about private, residential water-well owners,” Schweiker said. “Wells have been going dry throughout the emergency area.”

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has developed a fact sheet and a video to assist well owners in conserving and spotting a problem with their well. It is available online at DEP’s Drought Information Center at www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/subject/hotopics/drought. Additional information can be obtained by calling DEP’s toll free drought hot line at 1(888)457-6653.

Keith Lotier, sales/project manager with Duane Moyer Well Drilling, Lehighton, says they had some dry wells late last year. “It has slowed up right now. Unfortunately for the people, with things the way they are, we’re afraid we’re going to see things pick up.”

Well driller Scott Moyer says a couple of older, hand-dug wells went dry in January. He says the depth of new wells continues to increase. “We have seen over the last few years that the water table has dropped,” says Moyer. In his opinion, that points to one important conclusion.

“We have to protect our most precious natural resource ] groundwater.”

Moyer is a member of the Carbon County Groundwater Guardians, which is active in protecting and educating people about groundwater.

Since the governor has declared the emergency, state and local agencies will be allowed to expedite their response to affected communities to ensure continued protection of public health and safety. It also allows communities to implement and enforce mandatory water-conservation measures and local drought-emergency plans.

With DEP approval, local water suppliers will be able to implement water rationing plans if conditions worsen.

Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein says the county’s first steps will be to form an emergency drought task force. “We will name members to that committee, hopefully by next week.” Nothstein says the committee will meet on a monthly basis. Part of their responsibilities will include updating water plans. Such a committee was established during the summer of 1999, as well as in 1995.

“I would strongly encourage people to conserve,” says Nothstein, “especially if they are on wells. They will be the first ones to suffer or have a problem if things get bad.”

Nothstein will talk to Commissioners Tom Gerhard and Charles Getz today and ask for their recommendations for the task force. County EMA coordinator Scott Forster will be appointed to the committee.

Although the commissioners have the right to do so, a countywide burn ban will not be issued at this time. Nothstein has been in favor of such a ban in the past when he served as EMA coordinator. Commissioners Getz and Gerhard believe it is up to local municipalities to make that decision. Three years ago during a drought emergency, the county eventually issued a burn ban.

Nothstein says for now, the county will not set additional restrictions, but those issued by the state will apply.

In a drought emergency, mandatory water-use restrictions prohibit serving water in eating places unless requested by the customer; indoor and outdoor water fountains, artificial waterfalls, and pools, unless needed to sustain aquatic life; and places strict limitations on watering lawns, athletic fields and golf courses, and the washing of automobiles.

Drought emergencies have been declared in parts of Pennsylvania in five of the past seven years.

The current drought period began last summer when a drought watch was declared for 23 counties in August. It soon expanded to include 45 counties. Early in November, nine counties in southcentral Pennsylvania were revised to drought warning status and seven more counties were included in the drought watch. On Dec. 3, an additional 22 counties, including those in the TIMES NEWS area, were revised from drought-watch to drought-warning status.