Drying up

Three-year-old Hailey of Tyrone stands in front of the Reservoir Park pond in Tyrone on Thursday. The water in the pond is as low as many residents can remember as Blair and 15 other counties have been declared by DEP as being under a drought.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, Blair County is one of 16 counties declared under a drought, effective Friday. It has noticeably affected local waterways, including Reservoir Park in Tyrone Borough.

The Commonwealth Drought Task Force assesses drought conditions in the state and made the declaration, listing also Armstrong, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Fayette, Huntingdon, Indiana, Juniata, McKean, Mifflin, Perry and Potter counties.

Residents here have said Reservoir Park’s pond is in the worst dry condition it has ever been, and some are worried.

“It is really scary how bad it is right now,” commented Matthew Germino, a Tyrone resident and avid fisherman. “I’ve spent a lot of time beside that reservoir and this is by far the worst it’s ever been,” said Michael Kensinger, formerly of Tyrone and an outdoorsman.

Borough Manager Ardean Latchford said, “[The] pond is definitely as low as I can remember.”

According to Latchford, the Borough is flowing more water out of the upper reservoir. “That should be helping soon,” he said.

Although the usual annual fishing rodeo events were not held at Reservoir Park this year, Latchford believes the pond was stocked with fish once in the spring. Currently, there is no worry for the aquatic life at the pond.

“The aquatic life appears to be fine. I’ve been watching some pulling out some nice fish in the evenings,” Latchford noted. “Hopefully we get some rain soon to help replenish the Juniata River as well.”

A few residents inquired about the Borough cleaning out the pond area while the water is low. About five years ago, debris was measured at six inches in the middle of the pond, which was of no concern. Latchford said cleaning could be done in the corners. “The biggest issue is just getting the leaves cleaned out of those areas,” he said. There are no immediate plans for debris to be removed from the pond while it is dry.

There has also been no indication from the Borough that residents need to reduce water usage, but a DEP spokesperson indicated municipal leaders in the 16 impacted counties will need to assess water levels and determine if restrictions are necessary. Typically, residents are asked to reduce water usage by 5%, to approximately 60 gallons per day from the approximate 62 gallons per day per residence statewide.

“DEP is notifying all water suppliers in these counties of the need to monitor their supplies and be prepared by updating their drought contingency plans as necessary. Some public water systems have already begun voluntary and mandatory water restrictions to preserve their drinking water supplies,” the spokesperson told The Daily News in Huntingdon recently.

The task force determines declarations of drought, including watches, warning and emergencies, based on four factors: groundwater level data, soil moisture, stream flow and information from public water suppliers.

Homeowners can reduce their water usage by running water only when necessary and not letting it run while brushing teeth, shaving, or warming up a shower. Also, dishwashers and washing machines should only be run with full loads, and plants should be watered efficiently with water directed at the base of the plant to prevent lose through evaporation. Residents should also check for household leaks and appliance efficiency.

The current drought is affecting crops, and is additionally expected to impact the fall foliage display in parts of Pennsylvania.

According to Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, ongoing drought conditions will cause early coloration of trees, browning, and leaf fall — making for a poor fall foliage display.

“It is hard to be optimistic for great fall coloration in the areas now under extreme drought because it has persisted for so long,” he said. “If, for some reason, precipitation does start to pick up, that will help.”

Abrams said sometimes there is a great display of colors even if climate conditions have been less than ideal. But trees that have early coloration and dropping leaves now will not be foliated in mid-October amid the normal peak color season.

“Some of the drought-tolerant trees — such as oaks — that are seemingly handling the drought okay are not among the great color producers,” Abrams noted. “One of the most famous trees for fall color is sugar maple, but unfortunately it is a drought-sensitive tree. Even the fairly drought-hardy red maple is starting to color early and losing leaves.”

According to the Drought in Pennsylvania web site, 2,905,000 residents are in drought, or 23% of the population. Of those residents, 1,527,000, or 12%, are in abnormally dry areas. Most of the Blair County region is in a moderate drought, while parts of neighboring counties are in both moderate and abnormal drought areas. The rainfall in the area on Thursday, and rainfall that is in the forecast in the coming days, are promising to keep conditions from reaching severe, extreme, or exceptional drought levels.

Adeena Harbst can be reached at aharbst@thedailyherald.net.

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