Towns, county watching water levels

Area towns and other water providers remain on alert as Strasburg weathers a drought.

Strasburg declared a drought emergency Monday after the Shenandoah River flows dropped over the course of a week. The declaration prompted the town to issue mandatory conservation measures as required under Strasburg’s permit to withdraw water from the river.

Front Royal continues to watch the flows of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, from which the locality draws its water, Town Manager Steve Burke said Wednesday.

“They are still low but they have not dropped to the point that the town has to enter voluntary conservation,” Burke said. “We are monitoring the flow and if we don’t receive any significant rainfall we would anticipate that within the next couple of weeks we may have to enter voluntary conservation.”

Front Royal would need to enact voluntary conservation measures if the 14-day rolling average flow of the river drops below 400 cubic feet per second, or the equivalent of about 180,000 gallons per minute, Burke said.

As of Aug. 21, flows in the South Fork ranged between 450 and 500 cubic feet per second for the prior week. The town recorded a 14-day average of 444 cubic feet per second, Burke said Wednesday afternoon, though the instantaneous flow was 409 cubic feet per second.

Front Royal last issued a voluntary conservation alert in 2013, Burke recalled. The town hasn’t issued mandatory conservation restrictions in years, he added.

Front Royal is downstream from Strasburg. But, as Burke noted, Strasburg and Front Royal pull from different stems of the Shenandoah River. The South Fork provides significantly higher flows than the North Fork. Thus the town’s permit comes with different triggers than Strasburg.

By contrast, Strasburg’s triggers for declaring drought situations begin at 175 cubic feet per second. Strasburg must declare drought watches, warnings or emergencies as river-flow levels drop. Assistant Town Manager Jay McKinley has said that Strasburg’s new permit has higher triggers for drought declarations.

Woodstock monitors the level of the river above the intake pipes that carry water to the town’s treatment plant rather than the flow rate. Town Manager Reid Wodicka said Wednesday that data showed the river at 15¾ inches above the intakes as of Tuesday afternoon. Voluntary restrictions kick in when the river drops to 9 inches above the intakes. The town must issue mandatory restrictions when the level drops to 3 inches above the intakes.

Woodstock could face the same situation as Strasburg if the area doesn’t receive any rain, Wodicka warned. The level is slightly lower than the average for this time of year, he said.

Mount Jackson, Edinburg and New Market draw their water from wells. Shenandoah County also uses wells to provide water to residents and commercial users in the Stoney Creek and Toms Brook-Maurertown sanitary districts. Director of Public Utilities Rodney McClain said Wednesday that the drought hasn’t affected the county’s wells though monitoring continues. Generally speaking, a drought will affect rivers faster than wells, McClain explained.

“We’ve got decades of experience with these wells and so we know which ones respond a little quicker to drought, or slower,” McClain said. “Fortunately, currently Toms Brook-Maurertown, Stoney Creek, both have a pretty strong water resources as far as wells.

“Right now, we aren’t as critical as perhaps some of those that are on surface water such as the river,” McClain added.

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