Pa. officials worried about drought

    Last year was one of the wettest on record in the Delaware Valley, but a relatively dry winter and spring have officials worried about the possibility of drought.

    Little snow, high temperatures, and few April showers mean the Delaware River is flowing at record lows.

    “It’s the lowest flow that we’ve ever seen, for this particular date, over the last 98 years of record keeping,” according to Delaware River Basin Commission spokesman Clarke Rupert.

    He said flows have been historically low for about a week.

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    Authorities started releasing water from upriver reservoirs in New York State on Tuesday, and reservoirs in the Schuylkill and Lehigh rivers might be next.

    “If we continue to see these flow conditions declining, deteriorating, then we’ll be able to proactively direct releases from those lower basin reservoirs as well,” Rupert said Thursday.

    Rupert says some sustained soaking rain would help improve flows.

    The situation is similar on the Susquehanna River, where authorities have temporarily banned withdrawing water from small offshoots of the river in 19 locations.

    Eleven companies that pump water mostly for Marcellus shale drilling operations in six Pennsylvania counties are currently affected. More suspensions are likely down the road.

    This likely will have no effect on natural gas drilling in the area, said Susan Obleski of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

    “The companies have known from the beginning to really diversify their water sources,” Obleski said. “So one withdraw being suspended does not make for a cease in operations by any means.”

    Drilling companies store water taken during high-flow periods to prepare for suspensions, and can turn to alternate sources if local shortages are prolonged.

    Similar water withdraw prohibitions were issued the past two years, but none this early in the season, Obleski said.

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