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State of emergency ends in Madison County after fire, but drought conditions persist in Central Virginia

The local state of emergency in Madison County has been lifted now that the Quaker Run Fire has been fully extinguished.

That said, severe drought conditions persist for almost all of Central Virginia and the neighboring Shenandoah Valley. While local states of emergency and burn bans instituted earlier in the fall are being lifted, officials are warning that residents should remain mindful of the extremely dry conditions, even with recent rain.

Drinking water reservoirs in the area remain at satisfactory levels, but farmers in the region have reported limited groundwater.

The Quaker Run Fire was ignited near the village of Syria in Madison County on Oct. 24. It quickly spread into the nearby Shenandoah National Park and prompted voluntary evacuation orders for some Madison County residents. It was declared fully contained Nov. 17, more than three weeks later, after burning through nearly 4,000 acres of public, private and park land.

The local state of emergency, declared on Oct. 25, and countywide burn, declared on Nov. 7, were lifted on Nov. 28 at the order of the Madison County Board of Supervisors.

“While conditions have improved the potential for wildfire spread still exists,” reads a statement from Madison County Emergency Management. “Current conditions will lessen the chances of aggressive spread but please use caution when burning.”

The severe drought in Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley has had a considerable impact on groundwater, according to farmers in the area.

Albemarle County Supervisor Ann Mallek, a rancher herself, has said she has heard from multiple farmers since the drought began to worsen.

“The report from a number of farms is that pastures set aside (stockpiled) for winter use are dried up or have been used early by necessity,” Mallek told The Daily Progress via email. “Some streams which would be expected to be four feet wide and flowing six inches deep are totally dry. Pressurized water systems that rely on spring water are failing. People living with wells are worried.”

Aquifers of ground water are connected underground. When one person draws excess water, it affects what is available for others.

“No one should waste water as that can take away a life sustaining water supply from a neighbor,” Mallek said.

The light rain the area has seen in recent weeks has not been enough to lift drought conditions. And when rain does come, it can create problems of its own after prolonged bouts of dry weather.

“The deep loss of ground water in drought situations translates to long recovery times when it does rain,” Mallek said. “Streams do not fill quickly as much of the gentle rain sinks deep into parched earth. Heavy downpours become run off and do not stay in the area.”

The reservoirs that supply drinking water for much of Central Virginia have been largely unharmed by the ongoing drought, according to officials.

“The reservoirs were designed to survive these dryer periods,” David Tungate, director of operations for Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority, told The Daily Progress.

Tungate said that despite the drought, reservoirs such as the 433 million-gallon Beaver Creek Reservoir, the source for Crozet water, has only ever been down a foot or two during the drought.

“If the Beaver Creek Reservoir watershed did not get another drop of rain, 433 million gallons is enough source water for more than 500 days of normal water supply demands in the Crozet water system,” Tungate said. “That’s what they’re designed to do. They hold the water back.”


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