Virginia

‘Lowest I had ever seen the river': Drought worsens in parts of Shenandoah Valley

Residents of Front Royal, Virginia, have been warned to expect at least another month with some sort of water restrictions

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It's been dry in the D.C. area, but the drought in Virginia's Shenandoah region is severe, and more communities there are enacting water restrictions.

The town of Front Royal has been hit especially hard, since its entire water supply comes from the Shenandoah River. The town has been forced to put emergency water conservation rules into effect. As lawns turn brown and flowers wither in their pots, streams and creeks are flowing at a trickle — in some cases drying up altogether.

The Shenandoah River is so low that people could stand in the middle of it while fishing.

A brief thunderstorm Thursday was not nearly enough to replenish the water supply.

"It's the first time in over 100 years that we’ve been in this extreme drought condition, and so we issued on Tuesday an emergency water conservation effort," Front Royal Town Manager Joe Waltz said.

All outdoor water use is barred, and the town's light posts are bare after flower baskets had to be removed.

The outdoor adventure companies along the Shenandoah are also feeling the impact. At Front Royal Outdoors, fall bookings are down 50%.

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"When July hit, the bottom dropped out, and a couple of weekends ago was the lowest I’ve ever seen the river," Front Royal Outdoors owner Don Roberts said.

But, as the view from the parking lot showed, there is still enough water in many spots to float and paddle. Roberts says he's making sure customers know the experience will be a bit different.

"We really have to try to educate the people that do come out, as to the fact it is very low," he said. "You will be getting in and out of your boats and walking in the river."

Front Royal residents have been warned to expect at least another month with some sort of water restrictions. Violations of the water rules could bring fines of $1,000, but no fine have been imposed.

Front Royal is just one of many communities with water restrictions in place.

In Shenandoah National Park, all streams are closed to fishing right now. The lack of water and the heat are severely stressing fish that are used to cooler conditions.

"We are already seeing some fish mortality, so we just don’t want to further stress then," Claire Comer with Shenandoah National Park said. "Even in those streams that are catch-and-release."

For hikers, spectacular waterfall views are gone for now as the drought reduces gushing torrents to a trickle.

But the biggest worry in the national park is a high danger of fire.

"Not throwing your cigarette out the window, or you know, something that people don't think about is, even [car] exhaust. That exhaust heat can ignite those extremely dry grasses," Comer said. "Park your car on durable surfaces, only on gravel or asphalt."

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