- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

FLORENCE, S.C. (AP) Mayor Frank Willis is exasperated that his already struggling region's economic future lies in dwindling lakes 100 miles away in another state.
Without significant rain, state officials say, several reservoirs along the Yadkin River in North Carolina will run dry by mid-September. Those waters feed the Pee Dee River, which provides industry and drinking water for the about million people who live along its basin in northeast South Carolina.
If the reservoirs run out, water levels along the Pee Dee could drop 80 percent, leaving the river useless for manufacturing and water plants. That would cripple a region whose unemployment rate hovers around 8 percent, well above the state average of 5.5 percent.
"With the bad economic times we already have, something like this could lead to economic disaster," said Mr. Willis, who estimates that up to 20,000 jobs could be lost if the river slows to a trickle for several weeks.
The Pee Dee's plight is the most extreme example of a Southern drought entering its fifth year. The dry spell in the South isn't as widespread as the four-year drought in the West. But the effects for some are severe.
Hardest hit is an area stretching from central Georgia through the middle of South and North Carolina and into central Virginia. Some areas are 60 inches below normal rainfall.
While farmers are suffering this year, for most of the drought they have been spared by rain that has come at the right time, keeping prices reasonable, said South Carolina Agriculture Department spokesman Wayne Mack.
The worst effects are harder to see. Underground, wells are drying up as not enough rain makes it through the soil to recharge the water table. Lake levels are well below normal, exposing stumps and debris.
Water levels at nearly half of the rivers in North and South Carolina are at record low levels. At least 35 municipalities in North Carolina and 20 water systems in South Carolina have issued mandatory water restrictions, while all of Georgia has restricted outdoor watering for two years.
Forecasters predict relief could come in the winter with a warming of Pacific Ocean waters, called the El Nino effect. The last time the region had above-normal rainfall was in the winter of 1998, when El Nino last affected global weather patterns, South Carolina drought coordinator Hope Mizzell said.

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