The beautiful fall foliage, the brown and gold corn and soybean fields, and the grass that has conveniently stopped growing … it all presents a sense of normalcy in Adams County. But while it may not be evident at first glance, Adams County remains in a water-deficit situation. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Adams County remains “abnormally dry.” As shown on the map above, the dry condition is fairly localized.
The best indicator of our overall water deficit is the amount of water flowing in our streams. The level of water in any given stream is dependent on the level of groundwater in that stream’s watershed. Low stream flow means low groundwater levels. Stream flows are measured by stream gages operated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which situates them in strategic areas across the nation.
Adams County has two stream gages that provide a good indication of our water situation. One is located on the Conewago Creek at East Berlin. It measures most of the water flowing out of Adams County to the Susquehanna River. The other gage is on the Monocacy River just south of us in Maryland, and it measures most of the water flowing out of Adams County to the Potomac River.
Below is a graph of the streamflow measured on the Conewago Creek at East Berlin.
The graph shows that normal flow on Oct. 29 should be around 150 cubic feet per second (cfs). The actual flow for that day was measured at 50 cfs—or about a third of what it should be for this time of the year. This is a clear indication that the groundwater level in Adams County is low.
From a regional perspective, our neighbors to the south in Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia are less fortunate with regard to drought conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows areas of moderate to severe drought in portions of those states, which happen to lie within the Potomac River watershed (see map below).
The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin is concerned about the dry conditions and has instituted daily drought monitoring emails to keep water constituents apprised of water supply conditions.
So, the bottom line is that the whole region could use a good soaking this winter and early spring to start long-term improvement of our groundwater levels. What can we do? Well, water conservation is never a bad idea.
Featured image caption: U.S. Drought Monitor Pennsylvania
Pat Naugle is past president and a founding director of the Watershed Alliance of Adams County, which is a member-supported nonprofit dedicated to enhancing and protecting the water resources of Adams County, Pennsylvania. For more information, visit AdamsWatersheds.org