Strasburg issues measures in drought emergency

Strasburg residents and businesses must take mandatory steps to save water as the town declared a drought emergency Monday.

Flow levels in the North Fork of the Shenandoah River prompted the town to issue the alert. Strasburg must follow a drought response plan as required under its Virginia Water Protection withdrawal permit issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and provisions set forth by the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Water Supply Plan.

Residents and businesses must not top off outdoor swimming pools, wash vehicles, use water in features such as ornamental fountains or serve water in restaurants, according to a list provided by the town. All restrictions allow for some exceptions included in the town’s drought response plan.

As of Monday, the river flows had fallen to 82 cubic feet per second, following a trend that started in July. The town must issue an emergency if the river flows fall below 90 cubic feet second in a 7-day average.

Assistant Town Manager Jay McKinley said Monday the situation came as a surprise.

“We really didn’t think it would get this low,” McKinley said. “We didn’t hit this last year.

“We got down to a drought warning last year and we had some rain that brought the river level back up,” McKinley added. “So this is the first time we’ve hit it with these new triggers.”

Last week the town issued a drought warning because river flows fell below 115 cubic feet per second. The warning came shortly after the town issued a drought watch and recommended residents and businesses begin conservation measures. The town expanded the list of voluntary measures when it entered the drought warning. All measures recommended during a drought watch and warning also become mandatory under an emergency.

McKinley has said he expects the town to fall into drought watches and warnings more often given the triggers at each of those stages. But even in a drought emergency, the level would need to drop much further to endanger the town’s ability to pull water from the river.

“But, again, I want to stress that it’s not like we’re gonna run out of water,” McKinley said. “We still have plenty of water over our intakes.”

Information on the mandatory measures can be found on the town’s website at www.strasburgva.com and on its facebook page.

Lawn-irrigation exceptions include newly sodded areas for no more than 60 days. Watering for gardens and other plant life may be done between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m. using hand-held containers no larger than 3 gallons – not sprinklers. Athletic fields should be irrigated between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m. and water should fall only on the playing surfaces. Irrigation is prohibited on fields not scheduled for use in the next 120 days.

Washing of paved surfaces such as streets, sidewalks, driveways, garages, parking areas, tennis courts and patios is prohibited except as needed to ensure public safety and health as approved by the town.

Vehicles and other mobile equipment can be washed at facilities that use reclaimed water as part of the process. Vehicles can be washed using hand-held containers or hoses equipped with automatic shut-off devices. Automobile dealers and rental agencies may wash vehicles in inventory no more than once per week using hand-held containers.

The use of water for ornamental fountains or other outdoor features is prohibited except where such devices are necessary to support aquatic live.

Newly built or repaired pools may be filled to protect their structural integrity. Outdoor pools maintained by commercial businesses or associations open to the public may be refilled under certain circumstances.

Water-use restrictions don’t apply to the agricultural production of food or fiber, the maintenance of livestock including poultry nor the commercial production of plant materials so long as best management practices are applied to assure the minimum amount of water is used, according to information from the town.

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