DEQ's Drought Watch Emphasizes The Serious Long-Term Impacts

Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Now I know why science and I never even went out on a date in high school or college, much less went steady. When I see the Appomattox River 100 yards wide in Farmville after a week of steady rain, the English major in me is certain the need for a continued Drought Watch has been swept downstream and out to sea. And I chuckle and consider satirical headlines and phrases when writing that DEQ announced a continued Drought Watch status for our area in the Appomattox River Basin-the entire Middle James River region-during the very week all the rain is sending the Appomattox River out to boldly go where it has never gone for a year.

But rather than try and make DEQ look bad, the English major in me fully understands that the things I don't know exceed the number of stars in the sky and much better to contact DEQ for an explanation. Glad I did.

Yes, DEQ may alter the Drought Watch status in a week or so once the impact of last week's rain and snow are understood. But the fact it may take that long after so much rain underscores the severity of the drought we continued to suffer when summer turned to autumn and winter took over for fall.

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The drought was so bad for so long that we could live in a world of rain for a week and not see the Drought Watch summarily lifted.

DEQ's Director of the Office of Water Supply, Scott Kudlas, explains:

“All indicators were down significantly across much of the Commonwealth until this most recent rainfall,” he stated in an email reply to my question. “I believe that we may have discussed the impact of seven and fourteen day average previously, which means that the impacts of the most recent rainfall will not likely be seen in the indicators for another week to 10 days.

“Due to the lack of groundwater recharge from limited rainfall and very dry soil (the soil must be saturated before groundwater can recharge) most of the rainfall to date has resulted in stream flow that quickly recedes to low levels…The other thing to note is that our statistics reset October 1 so folks often get caught up in looking at calendar year numbers, particularly for precipitation, which isn't relevant to hydrologic analysis,” Kudlas noted.

“This rainfall is welcome and will certainly help but we started the water year in a deficit and we should be seeing an inch a week or more this time of year. It may be that this rainfall changes the Watch designation in a couple of weeks. We will have to wait,” Kudlas wrote, “and see.”

Droughts, we may all understand better now, are even more serious than we thought, with consequences deep down in the earth where our eyes cannot see.

Flooding doesn't even wash them automatically away.