CHARLESTON (AP) - The southern half of South Carolina, from Orangeburg County on down, has entered the state's mildest drought stage.
The area has suffered below-average rainfall during the last 60 days, experts said. State climate officials expect the "incipient" drought - declared in 15 counties - will persist for at least the short term, The Post and Courier reported.
The affected area is a chunk of the state starting in Edgefield County, running down to Orangeburg and then up to Williamsburg County. All are farming regions.
Meteorologist Rebecca Davidson of the National Weather Service in Charleston said since March 1 the region has seen a rain deficit of slightly more than 3 inches. And she said no rain is expected for at least the next week.
Clay Duffie, general manager for Mount Pleasant Waterworks, said the utility has seen higher water use in recent weeks. In Mount Pleasant, the peak water usage day is typically Memorial Day, but Duffie said that last year's peak usage record has already been broken.
"The lack of rainfall is causing irrigation demands to increase, so we are encouraging businesses and residents to make sure their irrigation systems are working properly and to not over irrigate," Duffie said in a news release.
"This time of year, we often find residents are putting two to four times as much water as needed on their landscape," he added.
The S.C. State Climate Office suggests only running a dishwasher when full, turning off the faucet while brushing teeth and landscaping in a drought-friendly way: planting native species and using mulch.
Duffie also suggested checking for leaks in irrigation systems and limiting the amount of time sprinklers are on. The typical yard needs no more than an inch of water a week, he said.
Mike Saia, a spokesman for Charleston Water System, said that demand levels are normal for this time of year and that there's no reason for concern for customers.
"We have the second-largest watershed on the East Coast, and drought has never been a challenge for us, and we don't foresee it being a challenge in the future for providing ample and safe drinking water for customers," he said.
The state has been affected in the past by severe droughts, including one in 2002 that put the whole state into the worst drought category.
It's possible the current issue could sort itself out relatively quickly, however. The NWS' Climate Prediction Center projects that by July 31, the drought in coastal South Carolina will cease.
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