Citizens in three Valley counties are asked to use less water as 30 Pennsylvania counties are on drought watch and four others were raised to warning status, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.
Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties are among those on “watch” following the latest meeting this week of the Commonwealth Drought Task Force. A 5 percent voluntary reduction of water use is sought as dry conditions and lack of rain persists. Montour County is under normal status.
Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe and Northampton counties are under “warning,” where water-use reduction is advised between 10 to 15 percent. The four counties were previously under “watch.”
Declaration of a drought emergency would bring about mandatory reductions. That hasn’t occurred this year.
Precipitation in the Selinsgrove area is 30 percent below normal. According to measurements from AccuWeather’s substation in Snyder County, 25.4 inches of precipitation have been measured to date. The normal level is 36 inches, said Dave Bowers, senior meteorologist.
Though the upcoming winter is forecast to be stormy, icy and wet, dry weather is expected until at least the start of the holiday season, Bowers said. Enough precipitation is likely to accumulate by spring to return water levels to normal, though, but not before year’s end, he said.
“I’m afraid it’s going to take quite a bit and none is in the offering, at least not for a while,” Bowers said.
Aqua Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania American Water each follow DEP’s lead when issuing water warnings to customers, according to representatives of the respective companies.
“Our sources are at adequate levels and we’ll continue to monitor them. Conserving water is always good, both for the environment and to save money,” said Susan Turcmanovich, external affairs manager with Pennsylvania American Water.
The dry weather has made 2016 a down year for many farm families, according to Mark O’Neill, communications director of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. He said statewide yields of commodities like field corn, soybeans and alfalfa are down.
John Esslinger, a horticulture educator with the Penn State Extension, an agriculture program, said Valley farmers saw variable yields of the same crops.
Cold spring weather is more likely than dry conditions to have negatively impacted orchard owners, O’Neill said, where yields of peaches, cherries and more were down. Valley farmers felt their fruits were smaller this year, Esslinger added.
What the cost ultimately will be isn’t yet known. U.S. Department of Agriculture handles crop insurance claims. Once that’s calculated, O’Neill said monetary losses would be estimated.
The dryness didn’t hurt vegetable farmers, at least not in terms of crop yield. Vegetable farmers harvested normal crop levels due to irrigation — an expensive measure that cuts into profits, Esslinger said.
The dry weather did bring about one positive. It held diseases under control.
“Some of the diseases that blow in from the South either arrived too late to hurt the crops or did not appear at all,” Esslinger said.
Planting is finished in 2016 and won’t resume until next spring. Drought conditions over winter months isn’t a concern in term of crops, O’Neill said. There are other concerns, however.
“Winter precipitation is needed to replenish water supplies, including on-farm wells,” O’Neill said.
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