DEQ Issues Downgrade

Published 3:34 pm Thursday, October 18, 2012

FARMVILLE – Autumn rainfall has dampened the spirits of area fields and streams stricken by summer drought.

And that is just what the precipitation doctor ordered.

Though groundwater levels are not out of the woods yet.

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The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has decided to downgrade its Drought Warning status for the Appomattox River basin to the less severe Drought Watch.

The basin includes the counties of Buckingham, Cumberland, and Prince Edward, among others, and the Town of Farmville, which depends on the river for its water supply, though it has emergency back-up measures in place.

“Precipitation amounts, stream flow, groundwater levels, and Lake Chesdin reservoir levels have all been significantly lower than normal throughout the summer due to a combination of dry conditions and limited precipitation from the previous winter,” DEQ's Drought Monitoring Task Force reported. “However, all of these conditions have improved over the last month, with the exception of groundwater, which remained largely unchanged.”
Farmville Town Manager Gerald Spates said Wednesday that the river continues to supply the town's water treatment plant with enough flow to meet Farmville's needs.

“We haven't experienced any problem at all,” he said. “I think the last time we checked we had 17 million (gallons) going past the plant. Maybe more than that now. We haven't had any issue whatsoever.”

DEQ notes that cooling temperatures and evapotranspiration “that accompany the end of the growing season are expected to help improve hydrologic conditions.”

Tree roots drink up less water once their leaves have fallen and the trees enter their dormant winter state.

Evapotranspiration creates significant water loss from drainage basins, reducing water yield. This improves, in terms of drought recovery, during the leafless months of the year.

DEQ notes that rainfall deficits still exist in parts of northeastern, central, and southeastern Virginia but that normal to above normal rainfall did fall in parts of the northern Piedmont and middle James River regions. “Stream flow conditions improved due to higher rainfall amounts in these same regions, while groundwater levels remained relatively low throughout central Virginia,” according to the report by DEQ's Drought Monitoring Task Force.

The state's weather pattern changed as August became September, bringing rain from the southwest.

Portions of the Appomattox and James River basins, along with much of Tidewater, DEQ points out, “did receive below normal amounts of rain…for the period.”

The regions with above average rainfall were mostly in the Valley of Virginia and the southwest.

Although, DEQ is quick to add, “this does not take into account wide localized variations throughout the period.”

At this point in the year, the report continues, “we are well into autumn and have already begun the transition back to having most of our precipitation associated with winter storms and frontal passages.”

Which is a good thing for rain-hungry ground.

“These generally will bring more widespread and spatially uniform moisture across large portions of Virginia,” DEQ predicts.

Town manager Spates has already noticed the change in climate's effect on the Appomattox River.

“It's not hot. It's cooled off,” he said, “so there's not as much absorption from the river so it's working very well right now.

“We've been doing real well,” Spates continued, “and haven't had any problems at all in the last couple of months.”

On July 31 the Appomattox River saw its lowest July 31st flow level in 86 years.

Less than one inch of rain was recorded in Farmville during the month of July and the rainfall deficit for 2012 had reached 10 inches, according to WFLO, the official National Weather Service Cooperative Observer.

DEQ chose to keep its Drought Warning status in mid-September because, the department's Director of Water Supply, Scott Kudlas told The Herald at that time, “while rainfall deficits and stream flow has improved due to recent rainfall, groundwater levels continue to cause stream flow to recede quickly after a storm.”

DEQ was waiting for water supply storage to improve across the Appomattox River basis, he noted.

Improvement during the last month has been sufficient to back off Drought Warning into Drought Watch status.

But the watch continues.

For rain.

And flowing water.

Above and below ground.