Drawing from the bottom of the wellDrought hits many Haywood residents, businesses
Haywood County is suffering its worst drought in almost a decade, and as conditions worsen, more and more people are affected.
Although the remnants of Hurricane Matthew made their presence known in Western North Carolina over the weekend, the actual rainfall was nowhere near enough to provide a noticeable respite for residents whose lives have been affected by the drought.
With the total rainfall for the county greater than 13 inches below where it should be this time of year, Maggie Valley Sanitary District is “strongly urging customers to conserve water until further notice” with a voluntary water conservation program.
Maggie Valley Sanitary District Manager Neil Carpenter said that once his department put out the word to start conserving water, the response around the community has been great.
"I've had a great response especially from hotel owners," he said. "They've checked their toilets for leaks and some have even shut down their pools."
Both Canton and Waynesville water and sewer departments said they have points at which voluntary and involuntary conservation measures would be put into place, but they are nowhere near that level yet.
Charlie Carroll, who heads up his homeowners association, said his yard is as brown as it has ever been, and he is growing more and more concerned about how the drought will affect his water supply.
“I want to know if my water pressure will go down,” Carroll said. “I’m afraid my well will go dry.”
For many, there are other solutions, but it comes with an upfront investment.
Theresa Dunn and her husband spend most of their time at their home in Hilton Head, South Carolina, but the couple owns a second property near Bethel. Dunn said when she bought her house in North Carolina nearly four years ago, one of the first things she noticed is that her water pressure and quality were lacking.
The home’s previous owners had issues with the first well, so they built a second and installed a 250-gallon auxiliary holding tank in the basement. But Dunn, the second well is underperforming and the auxiliary holding tank wasn’t sufficient, especially since Dunn’s passion is gardening — an activity that requires substantial water.
“When I garden, I can’t do anything that requires a lot of water,” she said. “The well can’t even keep up with normal demands and gardening when there’s a drought.
Dunn was able to make her inherited water system work by spreading showers, dishes and washing clothes out across the course of the day to allow time for the well to replenish, but her ability to garden was severely hampered.
To get enough water without having to gamble on another well, Dunn elected to have a 550-gallon rain barrel installed on her property. The barrel collects from two downspouts along with recycled water from the well’s filtration system. Although precipitation has been a rare occurrence lately, when there is rainfall, the barrel collects about 300 gallons per one inch of rain.
“I couldn’t be happier with it,” Dunn said.
Rain barrels were first made popular in the Western United States, where many areas have been affected by severe droughts. Dennis Warwick of West Carolina Water Treatment, who installed Dunn’s rain barrel, said the barrels are a good solution for individuals who need a more steady water supply. Systems cost from $50 to $7,000 and can provide a wide range of results.
“We have seen a number of wells where water quality has suffered, either in performance or production, or in water quality,” Warwick said. “Which is why water barrels are great. They are a good, low-cost way to water plants.”
Dunn said she and her husband hope to live in Haywood permanently in the near future, and if they do, chances are good they’ll have to do even more to improve their water system. Because she doesn’t want to dig another well, she said her best option is to place a much larger auxiliary holding tank on her property.
Drought troubles, trout troubles
Local industries are suffering from the drought, too. Along with farmers who raise crops and cattle, the area’s fish farms are also losing business in the wake of the drought.
Wes Eason, chief operating officer of the family owned Sunburst Trout Farms, said his business is at a standstill.
Because the water for the farm is pulled from the bottom of Lake Logan, the business has not had any issues keeping the level of their streams where it needs to be, but because the lake has gone down significantly, the water is too warm. This is a problem because as the overall water temperature rises, the fish become more stressed, meaning Easton and his crew can’t feed the trout as much as they’d like to without risking killing them.
“You have to make the decision to not feed them as much, so they end up not growing as much,” Eason said.
This means that even though they may start with the same amount of fish in their streams as other years, because the fish end up smaller, they produce far less meat. Eason said that although they are still able to keep up with their current customers’ orders, they can’t take on any new ones.
“If someone calls me wanting to order 200 pounds per week, I can’t do it,” he said. “Then if I call him a few weeks later, maybe he’s moved on.”
Eason added that while he’s seen longer, tougher droughts, this summer’s lack of rainfall, combined with last spring’s lack of snowmelt has made things especially tough.
“This is the worst summer we’ve had in several years,” he said.
Coming up dry
It isn’t just homeowners and farmers affected by the drought. The pond near the entrance to Haywood Community College is the crown jewel of the campus. But due to the lack of rain, the pond is so low that the iconic water wheel can’t even operate.
The pond, which is about 4 feet deep throughout, is fed by natural springs and a shallow artesian well. Because of the drought, the level has dropped 18 inches below what it normally is — so low that the suction for the pump that runs the wheel has been uncovered. This led HCC Facilities Coordinator Josh Best to make the decision to turn the water wheel off about three weeks ago.
HCC President Barbara Parker said getting the pond back into working order is a top priority. She said it is a point of pride of not only the college, but the county, and pointed out that all kinds of events, from weddings to festivals are held there.
“The pond is certainly a focal point,” she said. “It is something our campus and the community enjoys. It’s not abnormal to see families with children and dogs around.”
There are a few different options for the school to bolster its water supply. Best said the number one option is to dig a well that goes much deeper and has a far greater capacity than the current artesian well.
“We’ve discussed that as an option,” Best said. “That’d be the first and simplest option.”
The pond isn’t the only thing suffering on the campus grounds. The normally green, lush grass is browner and patchier than it has been in years.
“You can drive around campus and look at our grass and see it’s dry,” said Director of Campus Development Breck Lanning. “We normally have to mow it once per week, but now we’ve mowed it once in the last three weeks.”
It is likely that the pond will not return to normal working order until next year, but Parker said figuring out what the issue is and getting it resolved is a top priority.
According to a flyer given to Maggie Valley residents, one faucet leaking at a rate of one drop per second can waste up to 2,800 gallons of water in a year.Some tips given to conserve water are only running dish washers and washing machines when they have full loads, taking showers instead of baths, using aerator type faucets, turning the water off while brushing teeth or shaving, filling a pitcher with drinking water instead of running the faucet, cleaning sidewalks and driveways with a broom vice a water hose and placing a layer of mulch around trees and plants to retain water.