The drought: Is there a good side?

August 19th, 2010

by Joyce Deaton

For most Piedmont lake dwellers, this year’s drought seems the worst ever. Docks sit high and dry over baked earth, their boats long since hauled away to storage. With many public access ramps closed, some of those boats likely will remain earthbound until substantial rain comes.

Marinas struggle as the water under their slips becomes increasingly shallow. The lucky boat owners have removed their boats to backyards or boat yards. The unlucky ones will have to look at their stranded craft until the water is deep enough to move them. On Lake Wylie, some marinas are suffering structural damage because of the shrinking lake.

At the same time, the drought has delivered serious ecological and economical blows. Fragile underwater and shoreline habitat has been destroyed, and many animals and plants living there have died. In some areas people have decided to drive their SUVs or ATVs along the dry edges of the lake, further destroying habitat and permanently damaging the lake. Fish who lived in the shallows at the lake’s edge find their habitats exposed on dry land. As a result they have been forced to move into the deeper waters of the lake where they are more vulnerable to predators.

“We are now on target for this to become the drought of record,” says Ryan Boyles, state climatologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. By some measurements this year’s drought is not as damaging as those of 1925 and 2002, but by other measures it’s worse. “By this time of year in 2002, we were going into a wet winter, while today we’re facing a dry fall and winter,” he explains.

Nevertheless, droughts are cyclical occurrences, and “this one eventually will go away,” says Boyles. “It may not all happen this winter, but sooner or later it will be over. There’s nothing in our data to suggest a fundamental shift. North Carolina will continue to be a humid Southeastern state.”

Thinking Positively

If there is a positive side to the drought, it’s this, says Bill Dellinger, owner of B.D. Professional Marine Construction: The drought offers an excellent time to take care of dock and pier repairs and shoreline maintenance.

“I can see what needs to be done any time, but when the water’s down, the homeowner can see it, too,” he explains. Dellinger says the drought has doubled his usual volume of business as customers see for themselves that their waterfront or pier needs repair. “It’s easier for them to see what’s needed and to evaluate the job and be sure it’s done right, “ he says.

What You Can Do

Here’s how you can make the most of drought conditions and care for your part of the lake:

• Check your pier and dock for signs of needed repair. Stand underneath the pier and look for loose bolts or cross-members. Pay special attention to the spot where the gangway ramp bolts to the pier. If the lumber is light gray or pilings are dark brown and 4 inches in diameter instead of the newer 6-to-8 inch pilings, it may be time to rebuild. Walk across your pier and make sure it doesn’t shake. It should remain steady under the weight of two or three people. Check around the bottom of pilings for exposed concrete that indicates you should replace the piling or anchor it with a heavier concrete footing.

• If everything looks shipshape, use the dry weather to pressure wash and re-stain your pier and dock. You’ll eliminate runoff of toxic chemicals into the water. For best protection from the sun, use a dark solid stain.

• Stand on the shore and look over your seawall or riprap. Do you see erosion at its base? The seawall or riprap should cover the area completely. No dirt should be visible. Add riprap or rebuild the seawall if necessary.

• Do not drive on newly exposed land that used to be underwater.

• Take a break from fishing, get together with your fishing buddies and reconstruct fishing habitat structures that have gone high and dry. It will be more helpful for the fish – and safer for humans – if you build in undeveloped areas. For more information contact the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission at www.ncwildlife.org or the S.C. Department of Natural Resources at www.dnr.sc.gov.