Although federal officials have declared a drought disaster in several area counties as a near record-setting dry spell continues, Prince William County and Manassas have no water shortages and no plans to curb water use.
County and city utility officials said yesterday that the drought fears running rampant through the region have not yet spread to Prince William, where water levels remain well within normal and do not appear to be falling with unusual speed. They said that the county's water supply--from three separate sources--is nowhere near dangerous levels, and that Lake Manassas, which supplies residents in Manassas and parts of western Prince William, is well above its normal level. [Related story, Page A1.]
John Sloper, general manager of the Prince William Service Authority, said yesterday that there are no immediate plans to put restrictions on water use. Sloper said that officials are monitoring the county's water supply constantly and that decisions are being made on a daily basis. He said it is unlikely that even voluntary restrictions will be necessary unless the drought continues for some time.
"We're in pretty good shape considering the drought that we are in," Sloper said. "I recommend that we don't do any kind of restrictions, because we have adequate water at this time. Considering the weather situation, we're doing fairly well."
Sloper said that the county's water sources do not appear to be threatened. The Occoquan Reservoir is at 80 percent capacity, and Lake Manassas and the Potomac River are producing relatively normal water flow, he said.
Sloper presented his updated analysis to the Board of County Supervisors at its regular meeting yesterday. Board Chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D) said she hopes Prince William residents will be mindful of the current conditions.
"Obviously we are in a severe drought, and hopefully everybody will be conservative with their drawdown of water," Seefeldt said.
The fact that the situation is being compared to the Depression-era drought--the worst in the nation's history--indicates a "benchmark," she said, particularly significant to her "since I was a Depression baby."
The last time county officials ordered mandatory water restrictions was in July 1988, when extreme heat and dry weather conditions led Prince William to bar watering lawns and washing cars. Sloper said infrastructure improvements since then have prevented the need for restrictions.
"We've improved our system considerably since then," Sloper said. "Things are worse now in terms of drought, but with the improvements we've made, we've put ourselves in a good position."
In February, Manassas added a large rubber bladder to the Lake Manassas dam. The lake now is about 2 1/2 feet above last year's total capacity. The bladder, which officials said was added at "the perfect time," increased the lake's capacity by 1 billion gallons, or about 28 percent over its previous capacity. So far, the water has not receded, thus Manassas's water supply is far from depleting.
The bladder was added after a six-month drought last year dropped the lake to historically low levels. In January, the Manassas City Council created a water emergency task force to monitor water levels. That task force now is evaluating this year's drought.
Don Echols, Manassas water and sewer superintendent, said yesterday that it would take several more months of drought conditions to put a dent into the water supply.
"We are in really good shape," Echols said. "We don't anticipate any problems in the immediate future."
But others are having problems now.
Kemp Clemen, a dairy farmer in Nokesville, said his hay crop is about half of last year's yield. Clemen is hoping the corn at his 225-acre farm "comes out to supplement" the diminished hay.
"The corn doesn't look as bad as last year. We've had a couple of little rain showers," he said.
More than anything, it's the heat that concerns Clemen.
"It's hot, and that's harder on the cattle," he said. "The stream usually stays running, but its been dry for over a month."
The situation will affect next week's Prince William County Fair, said Randy Fox, general manager of the county fairgrounds.
"We always have a concern about the livestock, that they have plenty of water and food," Fox said. "We have to take extra precaution about the heat; it's a major factor during fair week.
"But we will have plenty of water, fans, things of that nature."
Staff writers Libby Copeland and Amy Joyce contributed to this report.