7.4 Climate variability and water availability in the southeast region

Thursday, 23 June 2005: 8:45 AM
North & Center Ballroom (Hilton DeSoto)
A. W. Badr, Southeast Regional Climate Center/South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Columbia, South Carolina; and J. A. Gellici

The multiyear drought from June 1998 to August 2002 was one of the most severe on record in the southeastern United States. Over 50 percent of the recorded, unregulated streams in South Carolina broke previous low-flow records. In some areas of the State, streamflows decreased downstream, indicating that water was being lost to a lowered water table. Several towns were forced to switch from surface-water sources to wells because their streams went dry.

Ground-water levels also dropped to record levels. Shallow domestic wells were affected the most owing to the combination of drought and increased pumping by irrigators. Pumps often had to be lowered and, in some cases, new wells had to be drilled. Citizens in several communities blamed farmers for depleting ground-water reserves and threatened legal action.

Water levels in several South Carolina lakes dropped to dangerously low levels, disrupting lake and downstream users and threatening water-supply intakes and water quality. In the Savannah River basin between Georgia and South Carolina, levels in Lake Thurmond dropped to within 3 feet of the base of the conservation pool. In upstate South Carolina, levels in Lake Jocassee were about 25 feet below normal operating levels at the end of the drought. Water availability was also exhausted in the Yadkin-Pee Dee basin in North and South Carolina. Controlled by a series of six lakes in North Carolina, normal flows of 8,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) in the Pee Dee River were reduced to 900 cfs, causing saltwater to encroach on intakes of coastal water systems in South Carolina. As a result, the governors of North Carolina and Georgia and their representatives are working with their counterparts in South Carolina on management plans for these basins.

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