Drought hits area hard during past decade

Published 4:04 pm Thursday, December 31, 2009

The new millenium dawned dry in Polk County.
According to Tryons 35-year weather recorder Robert Dedmondt, 1999 was the driest year he had recorded, at 11.2 inches below normal. Farmers and firefighters were beginning to raise alarms.
After a brief respite in April, 2000, things got worse. The year 2000 would
The temperature rose above 90 degrees on ten days in June, 2000 and only 2 inches of rain fell for the entire month.
In Tryon, Landrum and Columbus, all eyes turned to Lake Lanier, which supplied up to 2.5 million gallons per day for the three towns.
Vaughns Creek, the main feed for Lake Lanier, nearly dried up and Landrum had to begin draining the Twin Lakes above their intake.
Columbus wells were not producing enough gallons per minute so Columbus took up its contractual right to Tryon water, which guarantees up to 500,000 gallons per day.
Only Saluda, which bought water from Hendersonville, had a source other than Lake Lanier.
Landrum owned the pristine water flowing off the Blue Wall before it reached Lake Lanier, water so nice the city had even considered bottling and selling it back before the drought hit in 1998.
So when Lake Lanier property owners became concerned about stagnant water and shoreline erosion, they necessarily turned to Tryon. The lake association reminded the town of a deed restriction against taking water when no water was flowing over the dam.
But most of the lake residents also used Tryon water, and so the corrective focus was placed on cutting back water usage.
Tryon water usage, typically in the range of 18 to 25 million gallons per month, had remained steady over the years, but the town had given up its 650,000-gallon-per-day Warrior Mountain watershed facilities in 1998, when a new water plant was brought on line. Now, Tryon relied almost solely on Lake Lanier.
Meanwhile, growth in the Landrum area had increased that citys usage by 25 percent since 1995.
Yet the skies of late were not adding any more to the supply. In October, 2000, only 0.02 inches of rain fell, bringing the total deficit for a 32-month period to 44.5 inches, 25 percent less rainfall than usual.
As “dry” became “drier,” it was not only public water customers in the Thermal Belt who were hurting. Well drilling companies were reporting that shallow wells in the county were going dry. Even deeper wells of more than 300 feet were in jeopardy. The water table was down by 12 feet.
By July, 2002, the rainfall deficit recorded since 1998 had climbed to 60 inches. Things bottomed out in June, 2002, when just 1.69 inches of rain fell, four inches less than normal.
Mandatory water restrictions were enacted in Tryon and Landrum in June, 2002 and Tryon dropped its water usage from 900,000 to 650,000 gallons per day on average.
But the reaction barely preceded the cure. By October, 2002, the water restrictions were lifted as rainfall returned to normal. Then, in 2003, when it rained, it simply poured.
The Thermal Belt was drenched in 2003 with a total of 92.6 inches observed at the National Weather Station in Tryon, a 27.3-inch surplus over the average.
However, the lessons of the 1998-2002 drought had been well learned.
First was this: Nothing requires more inter-governmental cooperation than water.
Second, perhaps: Few subjects bring about more lack of cooperation than water,
When the drought returned with a fury in 2007, all eyes turned from Lake Lanier to the Green River, and eventually to Lake Adger, an impoundment of the Green.
The state announced Polk was in a “moderate drought” in May, 2007.
It was deemed “severe” by June and by August it was “extreme” and then quickly “exceptional,” the worst of the five levels.
With only seven months under its belt, the year 2007 was already 13 inches below normal rainfall, worse already than 2000. The western edge of the county, including Tryon, was the worst hit.
Polk County commissioners considered imposing a moratorium on all major subdivisions.
However, the second coming of the drought was to be comparatively short-lived. Tropical Storm Fay brought more than ten inches of rain on August 26 and 27, 2008 and the county began sliding back down the drought scale.
Polk County, one of the last in Western North Carolina to move out of drought, was only considered “abnormally dry” by April, 2009.
Rain fell 21 of the 31 days in May and by the time of the barbecue festival, things were simply normal again, off the drought scale altogether,end with a 20.9-inch deficit in Tryon, a record-setting, 30 percent reduction from average rainfall.

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