August 29, 2008

Inches of Rainfall Replenish River Flows

By Janelle Rucker and Kevin Myatt The Roanoke Times

Tropical Storm Fay's remnants dumped 3 to 7 inches of rain on much of drought-stricken Southwest Virginia on Tuesday and Wednesday, increasing water flow more than a hundredfold in one river that had been nearly dry.

Water flow in the Blackwater River, which has been in constant decline this summer, was measured at 117 cubic feet per second Wednesday afternoon.

The river -- the town of Rocky Mount's only water source -- hit a historic low of 1.1 cubic feet per second Monday, prompting town officials to institute mandatory water conservation.

Assistant Town Manager Matt Hankins said he's glad to see the rain, but hesitant at this point to end the conservation.

"We don't want to make a premature decision," he said. "Once it stops raining that number will peak ... and settle into a normal level."

It will take the river about two days after the rain stops to settle, and Hankins hopes water flow will settle at about 30 cubic feet per second. That's when the town will look at lifting the water restrictions, he said.

Water flow into Smith Mountain Lake, which has also been declining in recent months, reached 984 cubic feet per second Wednesday morning, up from a low of 97 cubic feet per second on Tuesday. While inflow to the lake has increased, it hasn't yet affected the adjusted elevation, which remains at 791 feet -- 4 feet below full pond.

Roanoke Regional Airport recorded 2.87 inches of rain through 5 p.m. Wednesday and 0.67 inch Tuesday for a total of 3.54 inches, with showers continuing to develop and move through the area Wednesday evening. It was the most rain Roanoke has received in a single event since 6.1 inches fell Oct. 24 through 26, 2007.

Amounts of 4 inches or more were common from southern Roanoke County southward through Franklin, Floyd, Henry and Patrick counties, according to National Weather Service data. An automated gauge at Witt's Orchard, on Bent Mountain in Roanoke County, recorded 6.39 inches of rain through 3 p.m. Wednesday.

A rural gauge in Patrick County captured 7.18 inches of rain.

Lesser amounts of 1 to 3 inches were common in the New River Valley and counties west of Interstate 81.

Additional showers and thunderstorms are forecast to occur today as the old circulation center of Fay continues to spin over eastern Kentucky, drawing moisture northward.

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