Precipitation deficits and above-average temperatures have resulted in the emergence of drought impacts across much of the Commonwealth. In response to existing conditions and the potential for the situation to intensify quickly, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued a statewide drought watch.
A drought watch is intended to increase awareness of climatic conditions that are likely to precede a significant drought event and to facilitate preparation for a drought. Despite recent rain in portions of the Commonwealth, the potential exists for drought impacts to intensify if hot, dry conditions redevelop. DEQ recommends planning for that possibility as Virginia heads into the statistically driest months of the year.
The Virginia Drought Assessment and Response Plan specifies four indicators that are used to evaluate the severity of a drought: precipitation deficits, stream flow, ground water levels and reservoir levels. Stream flows in all areas of the Commonwealth, with the exception of Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, are at levels that indicate a drought watch or more severe drought status. Ground water levels in western and south central Virginia indicate a drought watch status, and levels in much of the remainder of the state are close to drought watch status.
The primary factors contributing to the declaration of a statewide drought watch are:
- Approximately 86 percent of the Commonwealth is experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions as defined by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
- Most of Virginia has experienced below normal precipitation in the last 60 days, and some areas have received less than 50 percent of the average precipitation. Short-term weather forecasts do not indicate a high probability of widespread, significant precipitation events that will erase these deficits.
- The majority of stream monitoring locations across Virginia are recording stream flows below normal ranges (less than the 25th percentile). The portions of the state with the lowest flows are southeast and central Virginia, where stream flows are consistent with moderate to severe hydrologic drought conditions.
- Agricultural interests statewide are seeing impacts from the dry conditions. Impacts include poor hay harvests, poor grazing conditions resulting in the use of hay reserves, and indications of stress to crops including corn.
- Observations during the last few weeks indicate that wildfire occurrence, rates of spread and fire intensity are much greater than would normally be expected during this time of the year. Twenty Virginia localities had issued burning bans as of July 12.
- There are no widespread reports of drought conditions affecting public water supplies.
- Levels of large reservoirs such as Lake Moomaw, Smith Mountain Lake, Kerr Reservoir and Philpott Reservoir have been slowly declining since June.
Through the drought watch declaration, the Commonwealth is encouraging localities, public water suppliers and self-supplied water users to voluntarily take these steps to help protect current water supplies:
- Minimize nonessential water use.
- Review existing or develop new local water conservation and drought contingency plans and take conservation actions consistent with those plans.
- Include water conservation information on local websites and distribute water conservation information as broadly as possible.
- Continue monitoring the condition of public waterworks and self-supplied water systems in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health.
- Impose water use restrictions when consistent with local water supply conditions.
- Aggressively pursue leak detection and repair programs.
The state and local governments are closely monitoring conditions across the Commonwealth, and revisions to the drought stage will be made as conditions warrant. Updated information on the current drought status and water conservation tips are available on the DEQ website at www.deq.virginia.gov.