Strasburg goes from drought watch to warning

STRASBURG – The town issued a drought warning Friday as Shenandoah River flows continue to fall.

Residents and businesses should take additional, voluntary steps to conserve water, Assistant Town Manager Jay McKinley said in the alert.

The town issued a drought watch in late July when river flows dipped to 173 cubic feet per second, just below the threshold set by the state for Strasburg’s water treatment plant. The river flow levels as of Friday fell to a seven-day, moving average of 111 cubic feet per second.

Strasburg’s Virginia Water Protection withdrawal permit issued by the Department of Environmental Quality and provisions set forth by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Water Supply Plan requires the town to follow a drought response plan.

But Strasburg is not at risk of suffering a drought like the one affecting California, McKinley said Friday.

“This time of year I wouldn’t classify it as a steep drop and, again, the river is still doing the same thing it’s done for a lot of years before this (regulation) came along,” McKinley said. “It’s just that DEQ’s imposed these higher trigger limits that’s making us more aware of these low river levels.

“Nothing’s really changed as far as river flow and I don’t want people to feel like you know we’re in some type of situation where we don’t have water to use for the town – we do,” McKinley added. “It’s just that we have to abide by this new drought-response plan, which has these higher trigger levels than we’ve ever used in past.”

The town would lose the ability to draw water if the river level falls low enough to expose the intake equipment, McKinley said.

“We’re nowhere close to that,” McKinley said.

The town must issue a drought watch when river flows fall between 175 and 116 cubic feet per second. The town must issue a drought warning when flows fall between 115 and 91 cubic feet per second. Strasburg would enter a drought emergency if flows fall to 90 cubic feet per second or below. A drought emergency would trigger mandatory conservation measures.

Additional recommendations for water conservation under the drought warning:

• Avoid using sprinklers
• Do not plant new landscaping or grass
• Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways, walks and patios
• Do not wash hard surfaces or buildings
• Turn off ornamental fountains or other such structures unless the water is recycled
• Reduce lawn watering to no more than twice a week between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m.
• Water vegetable gardens only when needed between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m.
• Apply water directly to plants by using soil-soakers or drip irrigation

The town also urges residents and businesses to continue using the following measures:
• Reduce or eliminate outside watering and avoid using water to wash vehicles
• Mow lawns to 2 inches or higher and leave clippings that spur roots to grow deeper and withhold moisture
• Use mulch around plants and aerate lawns to reduce evaporation
• Avoid over-fertilizing lawns and apply fertilizers that contain slow-release, water-insoluble forms of nitrogen
• Place rain barrels under gutter downspouts to collect water for plants, washing of vehicles or general cleaning projects
• Plant native or dry‐loving plants in landscaping

Residents and businesses can reduce water use inside with the following measures:
• Use an automatic dishwasher only when the load is full
• Install faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads and water-efficient toilets
• Avoid running water to get a cold temperature; keep a pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator
• Minimize the use of garbage disposals
• Limit showers to 5-10 minutes per day, per person
• Wrap hot water heater and pipes with insulating material

By comparison, river flows appear better upstream for Front Royal. Town Manager Steve Burke said Friday that flow in the South Fork has been between 450 and 500 cubic feet per second for the past week. Should the 14-day rolling average fall below 400 cubic feet per second, Front Royal would enact voluntary water conservation, Burke said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com