Rain a respite for Southeast water conservation measures

Wrangell’s mayor. Steve Prysunka. circulated this image on social media. It shows the lack of water running into Wrangell’s reservoirs. (Photo Courtesy of City of Wrangell)
Wrangell’s mayor. Steve Prysunka. circulated this image on social media. It shows the lack of water running into Wrangell’s reservoirs. (Photo Courtesy of City of Wrangell)

Despite some recent rainfall, it’s still abnormally dry across Southeast Alaska. Wrangell remains in severe drought even if the city’s reservoirs are overflowing from recent rains.

Historically, June is one of the drier months across Southeast Alaska. Maps from the National Drought Monitor show the southern end of the panhandle is in extreme drought. Further north it’s just abnormally dry.

National Weather Service forecaster Kimberly Vaughan said that trend continues.

The southern panhandle continues to get less precipitation than the northern panhandle this past week,” Vaughan said.

Let’s take it by the numbers. The northern panhandle actually set some daily records: Skagway received half an inch of rain last Monday — twice as much as the previous daily record set in 2014.

Rain gauges in Juneau recorded 1.2 inches tying a record set in 1993. In Ketchikan, one of the worst hit, it’s received about two inches of rain more than the average for this time of year.

But Vaughan says it takes time to climb out of a drought that’s been several years in the making.

“It will take us months and years to recover from a drought that we’re in currently because it’s taken us several years to get this dry in a rainforest,” Vaughan said.

In other words, it’s gonna get worse before it gets better. There’s little rain in the forecast over the next two weeks.

Here in Wrangell the community has been on a low water watch. The city’s halted water sales to cruise ships and residents are asked to conserve.

But Wrangell City Manager Lisa Von Bargen said with the recent rains this is the time for people to get out the hose if necessary.

“If you have outdoor cleaning you need to do over the next few days, if you’ve got to wash your car, wash your boat, please feel free to do that while the reservoirs are spilling over right now,” Von Bargen said.

That said, the city’s water watch remains in effect. The community’s two seafood plants will be needing plenty of water this summer.

“We will stay on the water watch out of an abundance of caution,” Von Bargen said.

The take-away message is even with recent rains — much of Southeast continues to be abnormally dry or even in drought. So it’s best to get into the habitat of conserving water.