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Drought's better in Triangle lakes, but problems remain

Recent rains have paid off with high lake levels in area reservoirs, but groundwater levels are slower to rebound.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The storms have been rough around the Triangle of late, but the rain has paid off with higher water levels in area lakes.

Thursday, WRAL’s helicopter, Sky 5, flew over Falls Lake – the water source for Raleigh and six Wake County towns on the city system. At 2 p.m., the lake level was at 251.79 feet, about 4 inches above its historic normal level.

Jordan Lake was at 216.52 feet, a half-foot above normal. At the Kerr Lake measuring station in Virginia, the National Weather Service said the water level was at 299.2 feet, actually 0.8 feet below the norm.

WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said the drought was better in the eastern half of the state, though conditions worsen farther west, and 13 counties along the South Carolina border in the southern mountains are in an exceptional drought, the most serious of five rankings used by the Drought Management Advisory Council.

"About 16 percent of the counties have seen their drought status improve" since last week, Fishel said, and more may achieve that category when this week's rains are counted.

The council reports conditions every Thursday based on data collected at 8 a.m. each Tuesday. That means that rain Tuesday night and Wednesday isn't reflected, and conditions are probably even a bit better than reported, Fishel said.

Twenty-five counties reaching as far east as Forsyth County are in extreme drought, the second-most-serious condition.

Severe drought, the middle category, reaches into Chatham, Cumberland, Harnett, Lee, Moore, Robeson and Scotland counties, along with eight others.

In the Raleigh-Durham area, 43 counties are in moderate drought. Gates, Halifax, Hertford and Northampton counties in the northeast corner of the state are in the best shape. They rank as abnormally dry and are not officially in the drought, Fishel explained.

The good news about better surface-water conditions in at least some areas does not extend to groundwater conditions, however.

The state Division of Water Resources tracks the levels in a network of test wells, and many are below average. Groundwater had begun to recover after the last round of rains, but hot, dry days that followed evaporated much of that gain.

Groundwater – the water held in soil layers underground and used by people on wells – takes much longer to recharge than it takes for rain to flow overland reach streams and lakes. Groundwater also helps keep reservoir levels up after rains end, emptying into them below the surface.


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