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Drought causes local water usage to skyrocket

For Robert Klick, it’s 45 minutes a day.

Joe Weppner estimates six hours a week.

That’s how much time these Amherst residents are spending watering their grass, plants and gardens these days.

The drought has led to a huge leap in Erie County water usage – more than a billion gallons for the first half of August and nearly 3 billion gallons for July, according to the Erie County Water Authority. Water usage as of Aug. 15 was nearly double what it was for the entire month of August last year, and more than double for August the year before.
Klick, a longtime Snyder resident whose compact yard encompasses thriving ornamental flower beds and a couple vegetable gardens, is out around 8:30 a.m. every morning with the hose and sprinklers.

“I have to water almost every day unless it rains,” he said, standing over his beans, lettuce and Russian kale.

The heavy – and growing – use of water resources is unsurprising as the regionwide drought has lingered on and residents struggle to keep plants live. Just last week, U.S. Drought Monitor labeled the drought level in parts of the county “extreme,” though not all areas have been equally parched. Southeastern Erie County and much of the Southern Tier has benefited from heavy rainfall in recent weeks.

[Gallery: Drought in Western New York]

Overall, though, the demand for water has climbed sharply since May. While previous summers showed average daily water flow in the 70 million gallon range, this summer has seen daily averages in the 80 million to 90 million gallon range, according to Water Authority data.

Despite the highest demand the Erie County Water Authority has seen in recent history, however, officials say they’ve been able to keep up supply and don’t foresee any mandated limitations on water usage for county residents in the near future. So far, no single day this summer has set a record.

“Our two water treatment plants are working fine,” said Russell Stoll, the water authority’s executive engineer. “We’re not stressing anything out.”

That’s good news for people like Joe Weppner, who lets his sprinkler run for hours each week to keep his lawn on Darwin Drive looking thick and green. He takes particular care with the young maple tree the Town of Amherst planted by the curb this spring. Past trees have died there, he said.

“I’m trying to see if we can get this to stick for a while,” he said.

Along many stretches of this well-established neighborhood, its hard to tell the summer has been a dry one. Many homeowners are clearly fastidious about their lawn care. Green grass, blooming flower beds and trimmed bushes keep landscapes picturesque despite the stingy rainfall that has plagued the region.

The only tell-tale sign of the drought are snaked, green water hoses everywhere.

Andrew Gibson, a landscaper who works roughly 80 properties a week, mostly in Williamsville and Snyder, said the first thing he needs to do these days before he cuts a lawn or tends to the beds is coil up the hoses sprawled across the lawn.

“For us, it’s been a little bit of a nuisance,” he said.

[Related: Western New Yorkers battle once-in-a-generation drought]

He’s also received more requests from people to skip a scheduled lawn cutting appointment or to set the blades on his mower higher so the grass doesn’t dry out too quickly.

Lake Erie, the county’s water source, appears to be doing fine despite critically low water levels in area creeks and streams.

Some of the local waterways currently sit at their lowest levels in at least a decade, according to data from the National Weather Service. In the Town of Lockport, for instance, Tonawanda Creek’s water level on Tuesday stood at 1.14 feet. It hasn’t been lower since Aug. 3, 1999.

Cayuga Creek in Lancaster, meanwhile, was measured at 2.59 feet. The water level hasn’t been that low, prior to the drought, since June 25, 1999.

August has proven to be the most eye-opening month in terms of water usage. For the first 15 days, water demand has already reached 1.3 billion gallons. That compares with 617 million gallons for the entire month in 2015, and 706 million for the month last year.

Recent rainfall has eased pumping demand, Stoll said. But this month is already a blockbuster.

“It’ll be interesting to see what the end of August shows us,” he said.

News Staff Reporter T.J. Pignatoro contributed to this story.


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