Pa. drought not over: Don’t be fooled by rain


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Much of Pennsylvania received several inches of precipitation in late March, but a Penn State groundwater expert warns residents that the drought is not over and they should continue to conserve water.

“My concern right now is that people using groundwater supplies don’t get lulled into thinking that the recent rains have solved the problem,” said Bryan Swistock, a water resources extension specialist. “Even with all of the recent rains, we were still just barely above normal for March and the long-term deficits remain staggering.”

Spring rains marginal help. Groundwater levels are rising, but that’s only normal for this time of year, according to Swistock.

“They are still way below where they should be and they will only benefit from rainfall until mid-April,” he said. “After that, trees and plants will absorb much of the rainfall. Typically, groundwater does not recharge during the summer months.”

Swistock said recent rains and light snows might have been sufficient to delay drought-related problems until mid-summer. And of course, a month of really wet weather could eliminate the problem entirely, but he worries the drought will again rear its ugly head in a few months. In many parts of the state, groundwater levels never recovered from the drought of 1999.

“I think our real problems are going to be during later summer and early fall,” he said.

Need to conserve. “Even if we get normal amounts of rain over the summer, groundwater levels are just too low to make it through the summer. I just want to warn people in Pennsylvania – particularly those who depend on wells and groundwater – not to let their guard down. They should continue to conserve water now in the hope they can stave off serious drought-related problems this fall.”

Homeowner advice. Swistock offers these suggestions to save water:

* Replacing an old toilet with a new 1.6 gallon-per-flush model could save a typical household from 7,900 to 21,700 gallons of water per year;

* Placing a plastic jug filled with water or small rocks in older toilet tanks can cut down on the amount of water needed for each flush and save more than 1,000 gallons per year;

* Repairing dripping faucets and leaking toilets (flapper valves are usually the cause) can save more than 10 gallons of water per person per day. A faucet chipping at one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year;

* Washing clothes and dishes only when you have a full load. When replacing an older machine, consider high-efficiency models, which use an average of 30 percent less water and 40 percent to 50 percent less energy, saving about nine gallons per washing machine cycle and 7.5 gallons per dishwasher cycle;

* Installing a water-efficient showerhead can save one to 7.5 gallons per minute. Taking a quick shower can save an average of 20 gallons of water.


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