Despite recent rains, officials are warning that current drought conditions are signaling a serious issue regionally and statewide. On June 6, the S.C. Drought Response Committee upgraded the drought status of all S.C. counties.
Due to high heat and little rain, Oconee, Pickens, Greenville, Anderson, Spartanburg, Cherokee, Union, York, Lancaster and Kershaw counties have been upgraded to incipient level drought while the other 35 counties have been upgraded to the status of moderate level drought. The South Carolina Drought Response Act categorizes droughts from incipient, moderate, severe, and extreme with incipient being the lowest category, and extreme being the highest.
The heavy rainfall that the state has been experiencing recently has saved all counties from ranking in at higher drought categories, according to Marion Rizer, Colleton Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner Emeritus.
“We only upgraded one level to moderate drought because of the recent rainfall. Without this rain it would have been necessary to consider a severe drought declaration for counties in the Lowcountry,” Rizer said.
Despite the drought, there are not issues with water shortages, according to Rob Delvin, Director of Water Monitoring, Assessment and Protection at S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, although it may become more of an issue if conditions do not improve.
“Several public water supply systems are calling for voluntary conservation. If the high temperatures and abnormally low rainfall persists, voluntary restrictions may need to be enacted by more public water supply systems,” Delvin said.
Santee Cooper operates the wholesale water systems of Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, both which provide drinking water and irrigation for the lowcountry. Mollie Gore, the corporate communications manager of Santee Cooper, said that the drought has not impacted their operations.
“The lakes – Marion and Moultrie – really depend more on activity in the watershed (North Carolina and upstate South Carolina) than what the weather does locally” Gore said. “They were very full coming out of winter, and I think North Carolina has continued to see more rain than the Lowcountry, so levels are good. We monitor closely, though, and will continue to do so,” Gore said.
While the drought has not had a large effect on water supply, it has had an effect on farmers and landowners. According to Trish DeHond from Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, crop conditions in most of the Pee Dee region are unwell, with field corn rolled up and scorched as well as poor pasture conditions.
Local farmers have seen the consequences of the high temperatures and low rainfall firsthand. Dean Hutto, a 7th generation farmer from the Providence area of Bowman, said the drought has affected daily operations on the farm, however they are taking steps to minimize the harm.
“We have some irrigation and keeping that running and making sure it is operating as efficiently as possible has been our main goal during the heat and dry. Also there are things we need to be in the fields doing that we couldn’t because there was no soil moisture,” Hutto said.
Hutto also described the rainfall over the past few days as a “blessing,” however that does not change the fact that this drought will have lasting effects.
“Our corn crop that was not under irrigation will suffer significant yield loss. The dry combined with the extreme heat the last few weeks took a huge toll on it. It also came at the worst possible time because a lot of the corn was pollinating, which is a critical time for the crop,” Hutto said.
According to Hutto, the lack of rain is to be expected in late May and early June, but the bigger issue for the crops was the unusual 100 degree weather on top of the typical dryness of the season.
The drought committee plans to reconvene later this week to reevaluate conditions, hopeful that the recent rain will make a difference.