Otsego County is in a “moderate drought,” a weather official said Thursday, and city officials are monitoring reservoir levels and repeating a request made in July to conserve water.
The Oneonta Board of Public Service will discuss drought conditions at a meeting Thursday and take into consideration the recent arrival of about 7,500 college students and their impact on water resources.
A recent reading at the reservoir indicated the level was down 26 inches at the upper reservoir, Wilber Lake.
The city has been able to use the well in Catella Park to offset the drain on the upper and lower reservoirs, she said, however, with return of college students, water usage will double.
The water level at Wilber Lake on Thursday was 24 inches below the spillway — twice the level of a July reading, when the City Hall urged voluntary water conservation.
“We have had some rainfall, but not nearly what is needed to be out of the woods,’’ BPS chairwoman Margery Merzig said in a meeting notice issued by City Hall this week. “I do not think we are ready to declare mandatory conservation measures, but I ask the public to continue to be cautious in their water use.’’
The BPS meets in Common Council Chambers at City Hall at 4 p.m. Thursday. When the college students return, water usage doubles, Merzig said.
Of the more than 6,000 students attending the State University College at Oneonta, 3,500 live on campus, Hal Legg, college spokesman said Thursday.
After receiving the July notice, the college agreed to conserve were possible, Legg said. The college hasn’t been asked since then to further restrict water usage, which has been typical since the semester started Aug. 23, he said.
Valerie Capullo, media relations manager for Hartwick College, said the campus has recommendations and will address them. The private Oneonta college enrolls about 1,500 students, and students are arriving this week in time for the start of classes Tuesday.
Jim Brewster, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Binghamton, said Otsego County is in a moderate drought, which could result in some damage to crops, lower levels in streams, wells and reservoirs and some water shortages developing.
However, recent rains have helped somewhat.
Rainfall numbers began improving in mid-July, Brewster said, and streamflow in the area is about normal for this time of year. Groundwater gauges show mixed levels, he said, and one monitor indicates some dryness in Oneonta.
As of Thursday, Otsego County had 4.6 inches of rain in August, which was an inch or 25 to 50 percent above normal, Brewster said. Between March 1 and Wednesday, rainfall was 19.6 inches, about 1.3 inches or within 25 percent below normal.
In the area, Brewster said, rainfall in the past month has been 50 to 75 percent above normal in Chenango County, about 25 percent above normal in Delaware County and 25 to 50 percent below normal in Schoharie County.
Stanley Shaffer, chief operator at the city’s Water Treatment Plant, said the water level at Wilber Lake, also called the Upper Reservoir, was 24 inches below the spillway on Thursday. The level had risen about 2 inches since recent rainfall but is at a point of concern, he said.
Water from the city’s lower reservoir feeds into the Water Treatment Plant, Shaffer said, and in dry situations, that reservoir is supplemented by water from Wilber Lake and Catella Park well, which has been on since earlier this summer.
The city has been dealing with a “dry’’ situation since last autumn, Shaffer said, and little snow fall last winter meant little snowmelt adding to the reservoirs. Schaffer said he has been checking the Wilber Lake level every few days and adjusting the feed into the Lower Reservoir and the speed of the well pump as needed.
“Right now, it’s looking dry,’’ Shaffer said. “You have to be prepared for the worst case, which would be not a lot of rain this fall.’’
The NWS forecast for Otsego County, including Oneonta, is for mostly sunny days through Sunday and high temperatures in the 70s and 80s. A chance of showers and thunderstorms is predicted for Labor Day through Wednesday with highs in the mid-70s.