Drought conditions declared at Kerr Lake
With no significant rain in the forecast for December, and Kerr Lake levels continuing to drop, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has declared drought conditions at Kerr Lake.
Michael Womack, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations project manager at Kerr Lake, said the drought is mainly due to the lack of rainfall in the upper Roanoke River Basin, often referred to as the water shed.
“We’ve had some of the lowest inflows to the lake in over 80 years of recorded data,” Womack said. “Inflows being water coming in from Dan River and Staunton River, which combine to then form the Roanoke River.
“It’s truly just a lack of rainfall in the upper rivers.”
Womack and the corps refer to a guide curve to determine target lake levels that vary seasonally to better accommodate different purposes — flood storage year around, but especially in the winter; spawning releases in the spring; and recreation in the summer.
“Our target for this time of year is 295.5 mean sea level,” Womack said. “Currently we’re at 292.6 mean sea level.”
Operational measures are currently being taken by the Corps of Engineers to try and reduce the impact of the low inflows, which according to Womack involve releasing the minimum amount of energy required contractually to local power companies.
“Anytime we’re below, we take measures to try and conserve as much water as possible in an effort to get back to our target,” Womack said. “We can take steps to minimize the impact of these low inflows, but without additional rainfall or adequate rainfall, we will not be able to bring the lake back up to target.”
Tom Reeder, division director at the N.C. Division of Water Resources, says measures can also be taken by Kerr Lake residents to help conserve water during the drought.
“There’s a number of things you can do for water conservation,” Reeder said. “If you go to savewater.org, there are a number of things listed.”
Reeder believes local water supplies have not yet been affected by the drought, since residential water is not consumed as heavily during the winter months.
“Residential water usage is not in high demand this time of year,” Reeder said. “People are not out washing their cars or spraying off their decks like they do in the summer.
“Most local water supplies are still in good shape.”
According to Reeder the current drought at Kerr Lake is categorized as a hydrologic drought, meaning intakes are below the guide curve, but impacts to local water systems have not fluctuated drastically.
“If we don’t get rain over the winter, bringing water up to normal, then in spring when you have a lot of demand, evaporation is up, and you have all these new usages coming in,” Reeder said. “That’s going to exasperate the system, and you’ll see impacts to local water systems.”
For now, residents of Kerr Lake are left hoping for rain before the spring.
“We need help from Mother Nature,” Womack said. “So do all the lakes that are west and in the upper basin.
“They’re in the same situation.”
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