Drought raising concerns about Ky. water supplies
LOUISVILLE (AP) — A one-two punch of drought and record-shattering heat is starting to raise anxiety levels about water supplies in some parts of Kentucky amid surging demand to keep lawns green and gardens producing.
Temperatures topped 100 degrees for a second straight day across the Bluegrass state on Friday.
Bowling Green broiled in 110-degree heat, while temperatures reached 108 in Paducah and Middlesboro, 107 in Owensboro and 106 in Henderson and Hopkinsville.
As the dry spell worsens, some communities nervous about their water supplies are asking residents to voluntarily conserve water for non-essential uses such as washing vehicles and watering lawns and gardens.
“The raw water situation is concerning right now,” Bill Caldwell with the state Division of Water said in a phone interview Friday.
Tompkinsville Mayor Jeff Proffitt said the lake that supplies water to his town of about 2,500 near the Tennessee border is down about a foot. Residents are being asked to voluntarily conserve, but the request could become more forceful if the drought persists, he said.
“If we don’t get any rain in the next week or so, we could look at that,” he said.
The two-week outlook for Kentucky calls for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation.
Bowling Green endured its hottest June day on record when the thermostat reached 110 Friday, the National Weather Service said.
In eastern Kentucky, Jackson hit an all-time record high of 104, while Middlesboro set a record June high at 108, it said.
A death in Wayne County in southern Kentucky was being investigated and heat was among the possible causes, Coroner Forrest Hicks said. The 40-year-old woman collapsed on a street near her home while out jogging Friday morning and was pronounced dead at the local hospital. An autopsy was planned for Saturday. The temperature in the county was in the 80s when the woman collapsed.
Forecasters predicted more blistering heat during the weekend.
Churchill Downs resumed racing Friday evening but at least 23 horses were scratched from races amid the intense heat. The famed track, home of the Kentucky Derby, canceled racing Thursday due to the heat.
In Sparta in northern Kentucky, qualifying for the featured NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway was briefly suspended late on Friday afternoon by high winds that rattled tents and blew debris across the track. After a delay of just a few minutes, driver Tony Stewart returned to the track for qualifying as rain began to fall.
Television reports said the temperature on the track dropped more than 40 degrees when the cold front passed through. The air temperature dropped around 20 degrees to the high 70s.
Kenergy, a co-op that provides electricity to people in 14 western Kentucky counties, said it reached an all-time peak in use for June at 270 megawatts on Thursday. It didn’t have figures yet for Friday’s electricity usage.
Utility workers were among those sweltering in the intense heat as utilities churned out electricity to keep air conditioners humming.
“It can’t get any hotter than it is today,” said John Creech, who works at Louisville Gas & Electric’s Cane Run plant. “I’m around heavy equipment on the coal pile and it is brutal.”
LG&E beefs up its crews during heat waves so workers can take extra breaks.
Meanwhile, the triple-digit heat added to the misery from a dry spell hitting hardest in western Kentucky, where rainfall has been scarce since March and April.
The state climatologist’s office put 24 counties in Kentucky’s westernmost region in the severe drought category. In those areas, people face increased risk of wildfires, depletion of water supplies in shallow wells, springs and ponds and higher demands on water treatment plants.
The region’s many farmers are facing low yields or crop losses.
Another 66 counties are in moderate to severe drought. That area stretches from portions of western Kentucky to the state’s Appalachian region in the east. In those counties, the dry spell is hurting soil moisture and vegetation.
Caldwell said the intense heat and dry conditions more resemble what Kentuckians are accustomed to in late summer.
“It’s highly unusual to have one start this early and then persist clear through the summer and into the fall,” he said. “If that happens, then you’ve got one of those 1 in 50 or 1 in 100 (year) droughts.”
Meanwhile, the hot, dry conditions stoked fears about wildfires erupting.
Burn bans are in place in more than half of the state’s 120 counties due to tinderbox conditions.
More than 70 wildfires have been reported statewide in June, the highest total for the month since 1988, said Lynn True, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Division of Forestry. Those fires scorched about 1,000 acres this month.
“If we don’t see a break in the drought, the wildfires in this state will not only continue, they will worsen,” said forestry division Director Leah MacSwords.
The state said it is banning fireworks, campfires and charcoal grilling in the Pennyrile State Forest in western Kentucky.
The state-owned property in Caldwell and Christian counties will be patrolled by state forestry employees. People violating the ban will be subject to fines up to $500 and could be held responsible for paying the costs of putting out fires they caused, the state warned.