- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

The Washington area has seen the driest September in more than a century, according to the National Weather Service.

So far this month, the region has received 100th of an inch of rain, the lowest since rainfall was first recorded in the early 1880s, said Doug LeComte, a senior meteorologist with the Weather Service.

This month’s rainfall measure is 2.6 inches below normal, he said.

If rain does not start falling soon and conditions do not improve, the area could be headed for a drought like the one that plagued the area in the summer of 1999 and led to mandatory conservation of water in Maryland and parts of Virginia, Mr. LeComte said.

“The thing about drought is that you never really know whether it’s something that is going to continue for a couple of months are not,” Mr. LeComte said. “Certainly for the next few weeks we don’t see any relief in sight, but the best indications are that we will see some relief in the late fall or early winter.”

The water level has been noticeably lower in the Potomac River in areas such as Great Falls and other local bodies of water such as Lake Louise in Crofton, Md., and the Occoquan River in Northern Virginia.

But the low water levels are not entirely abnormal, said Curtis Dalpra, a spokesman for the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.

“Water levels do dip below normal this time of year,” he said. “We tend to have lower rainfall anyway.”

Now that the seasons are changing, the water level should stay fairly stable or even increase, Mr. Dalpra said. With the weather change comes an increased likelihood of rain and lower water usage throughout the area, he said.

“We’re now in the season when the river is normally lower, but people and Mother Nature tend to use less water,” Mr. Dalpra said. “People aren’t watering their lawns as frequently. Trees start to change and don’t use as much water. All these factors bring lower usage.”

If water levels continue to decrease and the area settles into a drought cycle, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) has a plan in place that would help the area conserve water, said Jim Shell, COG’s water resource planner.

“The plan was created in June of 2000, after the last big drought,” Mr. Shell said. “Basically it is set up into four categories — normal conditions, a watch, a warning and mandatory conservation.”

In normal conditions and in watch and warning stages, consumers are encouraged to use water wisely and conserve as much as possible, Mr. Shell said. The primary difference among the three stages is the amount of campaigning COG’s drought coordination committee does.

Mr. Shell said the committee, made up officials from utility companies and local governments, would institute limits on water use and fines for noncompliance during a mandatory conservation period. Maryland put in place such limits during the summer of 1999 drought.

The likelihood of the current dry spell leading to a mandatory conservation level is very small, Mr. Shell said.

“We could potentially go into the watch stage, but I don’t anticipate going into mandatory conservation,” he said.

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