Strasburg issues drought watch

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg officials put the town under a drought watch emergency Tuesday and asked residents and businesses to conserve water.

The North Fork of the Shenandoah River dropped below a certain level as set in the town’s water-treatment plant permit, Department of Public Works Director Jay McKinley said. That triggered the need for McKinley and Town Manager Judson Rex to declare a drought watch and to ask residents and businesses to conserve water, include those who use wells.

“The water table tends to feed the river as well so it’s all tied together,” McKinley said. “It’s all part of the water system.”

The restrictions under a watch remain voluntary. Should levels drop further the town would need to issue a drought warning and impose mandatory conservation measures.

Woodstock also draws its water from the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Town Manager Reid Wodicka said the river level is currently at 15 inches over Woodstock’s water treatment plant’s intake. The level would need to drop to 9 inches over the intake to trigger a drought watch in Woodstock, he said.

“So we are in good shape right now,” Wodicka said. “Of course, if we do not have rain, there might be a concern in the future, but there is not an indication of that right now.”

Strasburg must declare a drought watch should river flow levels fall below a seven day moving average of 175 cubic feet per second, according to a news release issued by the town. As of Monday, the seven day average flow dropped to 162 cubic feet per second, the release stated. The town follows a drought response plan under its Virginia Water Protection withdrawal permit issued by the Department of Environmental Quality and provisions set by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Water Supply Plan.

The town’s new water treatment plant operates under a different, state-issued permit with a higher threshold.

“It’s not really low by our old standards,” McKinley said. “At the old water plant intake we had a whole different set of triggers.

“We would’ve never even mentioned [a drought watch] at this river level under that permit,” McKinley added. “With this new permit, though, the triggers are set a little bit higher.”

The town operated the old plant off a permit issued by the Virginia Department of Health. McKinley said this permit did not specify any intake limits. The town used self-imposed limits as triggers and usually did not declare a drought watch until levels dropped into the range of 90 cubic feet per second, he said.

Strasburg’s new permit requires that the town declare a drought warning when levels drop below 115 cubic feet per second. Levels below 90 cubic feet per second trigger an emergency drought, McKinley said.

The town will issue a notice when the watch is lifted.

Businesses and residents are urged to reduce or eliminate outside watering and take other steps to reduce outside water consumption, such as:

  • Mow lawns to 2 inches or more and leave clippings (higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper to hold soil moisture better than closely clipped lawn)
  • Use mulch around plants to reduce evaporation
  • Aerate lawn to reduce evaporation
  • Avoid over fertilizing lawn
  • Apply fertilizers that contain slow‐release, water‐insoluble forms of nitrogen
  • Place rain barrels under gutter downspouts to collect water for plants, car washing, or general cleaning projects
  • Plant native or dry‐loving (xeric) plants in landscaping
  • Avoid washing cars and other vehicles

Reduce inside water usage by:

  • Using automatic dishwasher only when load is full
  • Installing faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads, and water-efficient toilets
  • Avoid running water to get cold temperature; keep a pitcher of cold water in refrigerator
  • Minimize use of garbage disposals
  • Limit showers to 5 to 10 minutes per day, per person
  • Wrap hot water heater and pipes with insulating material

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or