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Pennsylvania declares drought watch for Philly and surrounding counties, asks residents to conserve water

Philadelphia Inquirer 8/31/2022 Frank Kummer, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Kids are silhouetted as they play in the water fountain at LOVE Park amid a heatwave earlier this summer. © HEATHER KHALIFA/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Kids are silhouetted as they play in the water fountain at LOVE Park amid a heatwave earlier this summer.

Pennsylvania officials declared a drought watch Wednesday for 36 counties, including Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, and is asking residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce their water use by up to 10%.

Included in the watch are Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery, but not yet Chester. The list of affected counties is updated daily on the Department of Environmental Protection’s online drought page.

As summer comes to an unofficial end, people are being asked to reduce individual water usage by 5% to 10% — the equivalent of three to six gallons of water per day.

For comparison, older toilets use up to six gallons per flush, but newer ones range from 1.2 to 1.6 gallons. A standard shower head uses 2.5 gallons per minute.

The Commonwealth Drought Task Force, which coordinates with the DEP, made the declaration.

What’s a drought watch?

A drought watch is the first step in an escalating process that could lead to mandatory restrictions. It is followed by a warning, and then an emergency, which triggers restrictions. No Pennsylvania county is in a warning or emergency.

“A few counties have experienced very dry conditions over the summer, and a number of others have inched into increasingly dry conditions in recent weeks,” DEP Acting Secretary Ramez Ziadeh said in a statement. “We’re asking Pennsylvanians in all of these counties to use water wisely and follow simple water conservation tips to ease the demand for water.”

The DEP is asking water suppliers in affected counties to monitor supplies and possibly ask residents “for more stringent conservation actions” if warranted.

How dry is it?

Although June was fairly normal in Philadelphia for rain and temperature, July and August both proved dry and unusually hot. July saw a 1.68 inches less rain than normal. August had 1.46 inches below normal as of Tuesday. But both months were well above normal for temperatures, with July running 2.9 degrees warmer, and August running 3.7 degrees warmer.

New Jersey, faced with similar conditions, asked residents in early August to voluntarily restrict water usage.

New Jersey declares ‘drought watch’, asking residents and businesses to conserve water

Pennsylvania determines drought conditions based on a combination of factors: public water supply levels, precipitation, stream and river flows, groundwater levels, and soil moisture — and each indicator has its own ranges of what’s normal. The amount of rain is not the only factor.

The DEP monitors those conditions along with the U.S. Geological Survey, which maintains the gauges used to measure water levels in streams and wells across the state.

It shares the data with other agencies that have members on the Drought Task Force, though only the DEP can issue drought watch and warnings.

How can I save water?

Some suggestions by the DEP:

  • Run water only when necessary; don’t let the faucet run while brushing teeth or shaving; shorten the time you let the shower warm up.
  • Only run dishwashers and washing machines with full loads, and try to run them less often.
  • Water gardens in the evening or morning, spraying only the base.
  • Water lawns only if necessary, and with no more than one inch per week.
  • Set mower blades high, as longer grass shades soil, improves moisture retention, an encourages thicker growth.
  • Check for household leaks: A single leaking toilet can waste 200 gallons daily.
  • Don’t hose off sidewalks, decks, and driveways.
  • Install low-flow plumbing fixtures.
  • Use a rain barrel.

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