With South Carolina State Climatology officials giving all but two counties the severe drought designation, members of Pickens City Council voted last week to ask citizens to voluntarily conserve their use of water.
Hope Mizzell, with the SC State Climatology Office said that although drought conditions are difficult to define, it is basically based on the needs and disciplines of a specific region.
"Drought, or levels of drought, occurs when we have insufficient water to meet the demands," she said. "More specifically, it occurs when we have below normal precipitation resulting in less water in meeting water demands."
According to Mizzell, drought also is defined differently by people who depend on water, such as farmers and firemen. A farmer, whose livelihood depends on a productive garden, would consider drought conditions after a few inches of below normal rainfall. A fireman looking a potential forest fires would need even less rain than the farmer before he called the conditions poor enough for drought, she said.
"Different regions define drought differently," she said. "While South Carolina falls into drought after ten to 12 inches of below normal precipitation, another state, like Arizona, would need additional inches of below normal rainfall before it reached drought conditions."
Mizzell said that the different types of drought includes meteorological and hydrological.
A meteorological drought occurs when precipitation consistently falls short of average levels for periods of months or years. A hydrological drought happens when the amount of water needed by crops for growth exceeds the amount available in the soil.
The State Climatology Committee studies drought conditions throughout South Carolina and declare at which stage of four drought levels each county is in, she said.
Recently, all but two South Carolina counties have been declared to be in the third level of drought, being severe conditions.
Beaufort and Jasper Counties remain in moderate drought conditions.
Although South Carolina government officials have the authority to mandate water restrictions, Mizzell said that the first step in water conservation begins at a local level with the voluntary restrictions.
"We try to avoid mandating restrictions on water usage," she said. "And people can make a difference by taking simple measures.
"Everyone should check around their homes for leakages. It's amazing how much water is wasted through slow leaks and drips," she said.
"Most people over-water their lawns," she said. "Lawns need only about an inch of water per week and many people pour about four inches of water on the lawns each week. It's only wasted."
The SC State Climatology Office also recommends that everyone:
Repair all leaky faucets and be sure they are turned off tightly when not in use, and remember to do the same for outside faucets;
Install water-saving devices in the home - such as flow-reducing faucet heads, faucet aerators, toilet dams and pressure regulator valves;
Take short showers and do not overfill bathtubs;
Turn water off and on as needed when shaving, brushing teeth or hand washing clothes and dishes;
Flush toilets less often; and,
Keep cold drinking water in the refrigerator instead of running cold water from the tap.
Duke Energy officials are also asking area residents to use water wisely until widespread, significant rainfall arrives to bring lake levels in the Keowee-Toxaway basin back to normal.
Calling the S.C. State Climatology Office decision of declaring severe drought conditions "a clear indication that the situation is worsening," Joe Hall, the company's lake services and permitting manager, said. If you are not conserving water, we ask that you begin immediately."
In last week's unanimous Pickens City Council vote, members determined to ask its citizens to voluntarily restrict their use of water, with successful conservation of this resource lending to the avoidance of a later mandatory city restriction.
In a recent press release, city officials offer simple advice to aid in water conservation.
Council members suggest additional water-saving measures which include:
Automatic dishwashers use 15 gallons for every cycle, regardless of how many dishes are loaded. Washing machines use 40 gallons for every cycle. Conserve water by loading these machines to capacity;
Turn off the tap when brushing you teeth;
Check every faucet in your home for leaks. Just a slow drip can waste 15 to 20 gallons of water per day;
Check toilets for leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank and watch for a few minutes to see if the color shows up in the bowl. It is not uncommon to lose 100 gallons a day from one of these otherwise invisible toilet leaks;
Use your water meter to detect hidden leaks. Simply turn off all water using devises or fixtures. Then check the meter after 15 minutes. If it has moved, there is a leak somewhere;
Use low flow showerheads and faucets;
Avoid washing your vehicle and watering your lawn.
Mizzell said that the fourth level of drought is extreme, and there is a possibility South Carolina could fall into that category.
"We are worried that this drought might last through the winter," she said.
Already, according to the Climatology Office, several counties in the state already have issued mandatory water restrictions. These areas include designated sections of Aiken, Chester Darlington, Edgefield, Greenwood, Hampton, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Marlboro, Union, and York Counties.
"Of course, it will rain again," Mizzell said. "But we need to be prepared until it does."