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Drought eases in Surry County; other areas remain parched

November 2nd, 2007 · No Comments

Three days of rain last week moved Surry County into the category of “moderate drought” (D1) on the weekly State Drought Monitor map posted Thursday by the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council.

More than half of the state’s counties remain locked in the D3 (extreme drought) or D4 (exceptional) categories on the newest Drought Monitor Map and 82 counties are experiencing severe drought or worse. The Charlotte area is rated D4, much of the Triangle (around Raleigh) is D3 and farther south of us in the Piedmont Triad most counties are rated D2 (severe) to D3. Mandatory water restrictions remain in effect in Guilford County around Greensboro and the Greensboro News & Record reports the outlook for next year is not favorable.

Earlier this month Surry County slipped into the “extreme drought” (D3) category. You should know, however, that the advisory council’s mapping system puts a county into one of the five drought categories if only a small section has less than a certain level of precipitation. In fact, most of Surry County never experienced worse than “severe” drought this summer, though that’s certainly bad enough. The drought stressed crops including tobacco, vinifera (wine) grapes and field grains, but the exceptional Easter freeze last spring actually may have been more costly to farmers. As for restricting water use, city officials in Mount Airy on Oct. 18 asked residents to voluntarily limit water consumption, but the request came more as a demonstration of sympathy for downstream counties’ residents than because of any actual shortage. Elkin also considered voluntary restrictions as early as Aug. 22 when Big Elk Creek’s stream flow slowed, but the town always had a tap into the Yadkin River available as a backup.

You can see North Carolina’s drought develop over the past five months by studying the Drought Management Advisory Council’s archives. What you should notice is that Surry County, throughout the summer, never suffered quite as much as the rest of the state (the eastern coastal counties excepted). The same pattern was seen in North Carolina’s three-year-long drought that ended in 2002-03. Surry County is backed up against the Blue Ridge Mountains and well-washed by the Mitchell, Yadkin, Ararat and Fisher rivers. Within this microclimate, Surry had and has a lot of water on and in the ground.

In its impact on economic development, water is a major consideration for many manufacturers, public facilities and home builders. Mount Airy City Manager Don Brookshire is fond of saying that growth follows the water (and sewer) lines. As one example right at hand, Benny East’s development of Mayberry Campground (see Thursday’s post below) wouldn’t have occurred without Mount Airy’s agreement to extend water lines down U.S. 601 past Interstate 74. Robin Rhyne of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership and city officials in Mount Airy, Elkin and Pilot Mountain all can point to surpluses in treatment capacity as a lure to companies who need dependable sources of water. And those prospective employers aren’t limited to the traditional manufacturers whose needs spurred Mount Airy, Elkin and Pilot Mountain to build their capacious water-treatment systems. Computer data “warehouses” and “server farms,” such as the one Google is building at Lenoir, need huge quantities of water for cooling systems. That’s one of the reasons why Rhyne was in Dallas, Texas, earlier this week; part of her time was spent meeting site consultants at a conference for computer companies. Value-added agriculture is a target for economic development, too, and water is one of the factors that gives the Yadkin Valley American Viticultural Area its unique quality for growing vinifera grapes.

As levers to lift economic development, Surry County’s climate and abundant water are invaluable assets with the added benefit that they than can never be outsourced or moved overseas.

Tags: Agriculture · Economic development · Utilities

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