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BOC discusses Lake Varner drought plans
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Despite the many brief afternoon rain showers Newton County has received over the last couple of weeks, the county is still in a drought, though not as severe as it was last week according to the county's water resources director.

"We are getting a little bit of easing in drought conditions with the little rain that we recently had," said Water Resources Director Karl Kelley in a brief presentation to the Newton County Board of Commissioners at their Tuesday night meeting on the state of the county's water supply.

According to a status update report from the Newton County Water Resources Department on current drought conditions, Newton County residents receive water from two facilities - the Cornish Creek Water Treatment Plant and the Williams Street Water Treatment Plant which in turn receive raw water stored in Lake Varner and City Pond.

Lake Varner and City Pond receive their water from Cornish Creek and the Alcovy River respectively. These two streams are fed primarily by storm water runoff. As such, states the report, "our raw water supply is directly affected by drought conditions."

As recently as last Thursday according to Kelley, Newton County was listed as being in a severe drought by the U.S. Geological Survey. However, as of Tuesday the county's condition had eased back to moderate drought levels.

According to Kelley, normal water levels for Lake Varner are 701 feet above sea level. Currently Lake Varner is at 697.6 feet. While lake levels generally drop during the summer periods, historically this is somewhat below normal lake elevation at this time of year except during drought years according to the report. Lake Varner dropped as low as 692.6 feet during an extended drought in 2002. In October, 2006 Lake Varner got as low as 696.4 feet but did not reach the 696 trigger threshold according to the report.

After the drought in 2002, the BOC decided to adopt a Drought Contingency Plan which goes into effect when Lake Varner drops to 696 feet at which time a minor drought emergency would be declared according to the plan.

"We anticipate that we might hit the 696 trigger level this fall before the lake begins to fill again," Kelley said. "I don't want to panic anybody. There is some concern. We don't anticipate any other restrictions than those from contingency plans and what the state requires."

Though Lake Varner is still above the trigger level, Newton County as required by law has implemented statewide level two drought response water restrictions which only allow outdoor watering from midnight to 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for odd-numbered addresses and from midnight to 10 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for even-numbered and unnumbered addresses.

Kelley said the Water Resource Department has met with its primary wholesale customers to inform them that the county will be implementing its Drought Contingency Plan if Lake Varner falls to 696 feet.