Whitesburg KY

Extreme drought gripping county

As Letcher County continues be enveloped in one of the worst droughts since the 1930s, the cities of Fleming-Neon and Jenkins have issued water shortage warnings while the county government has placed a ban on all outdoor burning.

Jenkins and Neon issued the water shortage warnings hoping that people will stop washing cars and watering lawns. “We’re asking everyone to very conservative,” said Jenkins Mayor Charles Dixon. Dixon said if needed the City Jenkins could revert to an ordinance that has much stricter guidelines.

“Extreme measures would be rationing,” said Dixon. “Honestly, we are just praying for rain.”

Carlos Phillips, superintendent of utilities of the Fleming-Neon Water Company, encourages people to only use water for household needs.

“The way things are right now it is no telling when we will get out of this drought situation. We are so far behind in rainfall,” said Phillips.

Letcher County is down 11 inches in rainfall from where it should normally be at this time of year, according to Brian Schoettmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson.

The normal amount of rainfall for Letcher County at this time of year is 40.20 inches.

Several surrounding counties lack more rainfall than Letcher County. Knott County lacks 17.96 inches of rain, Pike County is behind by 14.91 inches and Perry County lacks 14.35 inches of rainfall.

“We need 20 inches of rainfall over the next three months just to get back to normal. We need a lot more rainfall than we normally get in a month to get out of the drought. We are in a pretty big hole,” said Schoettmer.

The City of Whitesburg has not had to place any restrictions on water use yet, said Mayor James W. Craft.

“The bottom line is we are still safe for the time being. We are maintaining the state-mandated flow across the dam. Right now we are pulling out 580,000 gallons of water a day. We have to maintain two cubic feet per second over the dam,” said Craft.

The Letcher County Water and Sewer office has recently received several calls from drought-stricken residents who are now interested in obtaining county water.

“On Thursday of last week, we had four calls in the Isom/ Jeremiah area who wanted to hook up on the (county’s) water system,” said Jackie Joseph, office manager for the Water and Sewer District.

Joseph said the calls were from people thought their water sources were fine until their wells suddenly went dry.

“Their water was OK and they didn’t see a need to hook up (on the county’s water system) then but have since changed their minds,” she said .

Joseph said that if the City of Whitesburg places restrictions on water usage, it would also apply to Letcher County Water and Sewer customers that live in the Dry Fork, Sandlick and Camp Branch areas because the water is supplied by Veolia, which manages the City of Whitesburg’s water system. Water for Isom, Jeremiah and Blackey comes from the water plant at Blackey.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward recently issued the 24-hour burn ban.

“It is a precautionary measure to help protect our mountains and people’s houses,” said Ward. “We are in an extreme situation in southeast Kentucky.”

The entire southeastern portion of the United States is being affected by the current drought, which is being compared to the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression.

A state climatologist told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday that the drought is the result of an enormous area of high pressure that brings clear skies and fair weather, and fends off low-pressure weather systems that bring rain. There is also the possibility that the weather is now more extreme than it has been in the past.

“As climate changes, it’s not an issue of whether it’s a degree or two warmer,” Kentucky state climatologist Stuart Foster said. “It’s when we have extreme conditions, do they occur more frequently and are they worse?”

The months of June, July, and August were the third driest in Kentucky in 113 years, University of Kentucky agricultural meteorologist Tom Priddy told the Herald-Leader. The driest year was 1930, Priddy said, with 1936 in the No. 2 spot.

The drought is also causing trees in Letcher County to lose their leaves early, which may signal serious problems with their health. Similar problems are occurring all across the South.

Wayne Shew, a biology professor at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama, said it “does not look promising at all to have any kind of significant color this fall.”

Shew said it won’t be known until next year if the trees have sufficient reserves of nutrients, which leaves produce through photosynthesis, or if the early loss of leaves causes tree damage.

Some of the information used in this report was gathered by The Associated Press.

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