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Rains Too Late to Save Crops : Some Water Limits Lifted but Drought Isn't Over Yet

August 20, 1986|From Associated Press

Recent heavy rain has prompted South Carolina to lift water restrictions, but officials there and elsewhere in the drought-stricken Southeast said Tuesday the usually driest months are still ahead, and crop losses are mounting.

Freddy Vang, executive director of the South Carolina Water Resources Commission, mailed letters Monday to municipal, water-treatment and other officials, advising that drought conditions have been eased and restrictions on water use were being lifted.

The drought is "not over, but we're heading in the right direction," state climatologist John Purvis said.

Newberry, S.C., got an estimated 10.4 inches of rain Monday, and flooding forced evacuation of some homes in the area.

Vang warned, however, that August, September and October are usually the driest months of the year in the region.

Rainfall Figures Low

Purvis also said that rainfall remained below average for the year. Rain in the Greenville-Spartanburg area has been 14.20 inches less than normal, Columbia is 21.56 inches below normal and Charleston is 9.34 inches below normal.

In Tennessee, the weather service recorded 1.46 inches of rain Saturday in Nashville. It was the wettest day there in six months.

"It's a drop in the bucket, but we'll take anything we can get," said Bob Murphy, statistician for the Tennessee Crop Reporting Service.

While the recent showers may help soybean and tobacco harvests, they came too late to save this year's corn crop, Murphy said.

"September and October are generally the driest months of the year," said David Draughon, deputy director at Tennessee's Division of Water Supply. "Those areas that depend on springs for their water supplies could face critical periods."

In northern Georgia, public systems that rely on surface water, such as streams or reservoirs, already have prepared water-use and drought-contingency plans, and some have imposed limits.

Ground Water Receding

Wells in southern Georgia have dropped to record low levels, and the state's Environmental Protection Division is asking 350 systems that draw ground water to begin drafting drought-contingency plans.

"We don't expect scattered local thundershowers to recharge aquifers," the porous, underground formations that are sources of water, said David Word, chief of Florida's Water Resources Management Branch.

Maryland agricultural economists said the drought will put 10% of the state's farmers out of business.

"The damage estimate is at least $200 million, and going up," said Tony Evans, spokesman for the state Agriculture Department. "It's probably higher than that, but when do you add it up?"

Crop losses in Maryland had been estimated at about $118 million. Estimates in the drought region, from southern Pennsylvania to Alabama, now total $2.59 billion.

In addition to Maryland, estimates of drought damage to crops and forests were $750 million in Georgia, $750 million in Alabama, $330 million in North Carolina, $379 million in South Carolina, $61.5 million in Virginia, $58 million in southern Pennsylvania, $40 million in Delaware and $19 million in West Virginia.

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