Groundwater ‘emergency’ and streamflow ‘watch’ issued for Rappahannock

Only such drought ‘emergency’ in the state

It’s bone dry in Rappahannock County — drier than much of Virginia — and there’s little relief in sight.

As a result, the Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force (DMTF) has declared a “groundwater emergency” for Rappahannock County and its Northern Piedmont region. It is the only such drought emergency — the highest classification — issued so far in the state.

In addition, a streamflow “watch” has been issued for Rappahannock County and immediate surrounding counties to the south and east.

The four drought stage classifications are normal, watch, warning and emergency.

“Drought ‘emergency’ responses are generally responses that are required during the height of a significant drought event,” states the DMTF. “During these times, it is likely that some water supplies will not supply the amount of water needed by all users and non-essential uses of water should be eliminated.”

The DMTF, an interagency group of technical representatives from state and federal agencies, uses four initial indicators to gauge the presence and severity of hydrologic drought: groundwater levels, precipitation deficits, streamflow, and reservoir storage.

Virginia is divided into thirteen Drought Evaluation Regions, including Northern Piedmont, an eight-county area that includes Culpeper and Madison counties. Fauquier County is not in the region.


Courtesy of DMTF

Virginia law addresses enforcement measures during droughts — in rural areas primarily surrounding water conservation and management plans dealing with crops and cattle.

“Mandatory water conservation requirements contained in water conservation and contingency plans should be initiated at this [emergency] stage,” the DMTF states of the county’s groundwater emergency. “Mandatory water conservation activities generally result in water use reductions of 10 to 15 percent.”

There is no measurable precipitation in the forecast for the next 10 days in Rappahannock, which is not good news considering the county has already been enduring September temperatures well above normal for several weeks.

The Virginia Drought Assessment and Response Plan guides all drought monitoring, evaluation and response in Virginia, while the DMTF is responsible for monitoring drought conditions and making recommendations for drought stage declarations.

The DMTF meets to assess conditions and make recommendations regarding drought status. It last met on Sept. 14, when it “agreed to recommend continuing the existing Drought Watch in the Northern Piedmont region, based upon a forecast for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation, and the continuing low groundwater levels with consequent potential for low base flows.”

An updated drought status report was issued on Sept. 18. The next DMTF meeting is scheduled for Oct. 12.

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John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at