Drought Contingency Planning in Action
Simpson, Steven L.
Kenel, Pamela P.
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Much of the eastern United States experienced an intense drought in 1998 and again in 1999, as levels of precipitation were some of the lowest in over a century. The Delaware River Basin Commission, the state of Maryland, and the state of Pennsylvania were among those declaring a drought emergency. In Northern Virginia, conditions were extremely dry - precipitation recorded from July through December of 1998 was 13 inches below the normal of 20 inches. According to the Palmer Drought Severity Index, the regional drought was classified as "extreme," the most serious category. Reservior supplies throughout the Mid-Atlantic region were negatively affected by this intense drought. Lake Manassas in Prince William County, Virginia, reached its lowest level, 8.6 feet below the spillway, in late December 1988. Fortunately the City of Manassas was prepared to address the extreme conditions due to drought contingency planning that was initiated as part of a comprehensive water system optimization strategy. Typical Lake Manassas operation includes a refill period beginning in November, when seasonal water demands begin to diminish. When reservior levels continued to fall in November of 1998, the City initiated the first stages of public awareness and education. Intense monitoring of reservoir level and inflow by the City's Department of Utilities was coupled with implementation of a number of measures to conserve the water in Lake Manassas. Due to regional cooperation with other large-volume water customers, the City was able to stabilize the previously rapid drop in lake level. A Water Supply Advisory Task Force was created to assist with development and implementation of fair and equitable restrictions that would accompany more restrictive drought stages. Task Force members include community and industry representatives, City Council and administrtative members, the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory, and Department of Utilities. The Task Force will have an ongoing role in updating and refining the Drought Contingency Plan.