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some text Staff photo by Ben Benton / Philip "Winky" Cagle

Don't let the cloudy skies fool you.

Wells that supply Pikeville, Tennessee, customers with water are getting drier, forcing the small town to issue mandatory restrictions until there's significant rain.

"We have a drought management plan that was passed by the city council May 22, 2017," Mayor Philip "Winky" Cagle said of actions the city took in the wake of the 2016 drought. Pikeville's mandatory restrictions issued Monday ask customers not to wash vehicles, including at commercial car washes, and to restrict lawn and landscaping watering.

The plan, which must meet state requirements, provides for conservation actions based on local water table levels, Cagle said. The water table on Wednesday was marked at 84 feet, relative to a probe that goes 150 feet into the ground.

"When our water table gets below 84 feet, we're supposed to notify the people of this plan," Cagle said of the city's 1,600-plus customers. Pikeville's largest water customer, the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex where 2,500 or so inmates are housed, accounts for about one-third of demand and also has been asked to conserve.

Average daily demand on the city water system is about 900,000 gallons a day, but with now-diminished water table levels demand needs to be cut to around 750,000 gallons a day, officials said. City water storage tanks are about three-quarters full, and wells are supplying about 600 gallons an hour.

In Dunlap, 20 miles to the south, it's dry but supplies are OK for now, according to public works director Clayton Smith. Dunlap draws its water from the Sequatchie River and is linked to Pikeville as a backup supply.

DEGREES OF DROUGHT

The U.S. Drought Monitor ranks drought conditions D0-D4 starting with abnormally dry conditions and topping out at Exceptional Drought.

D0 - Abnormally Dry
* Short-term dryness slowing planting, growth of crops
* Some lingering water deficits
* Pastures or crops not fully recovered

D1 - Moderate Drought
* Some damage to crops, pastures
* Some water shortages developing
* Voluntary water-use restrictions requested

D2 - Severe Drought
* Crop or pasture loss likely
* Water shortages common
* Water restrictions imposed

D3 - Extreme Drought
* Major crop/pasture losses
* Widespread water shortages or restrictions

D4 - Exceptional Drought
* Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses
* Shortages of water creating water emergencies

Source: National Integrated Drought Information System, U.S. Drought Monitor

"It's been dry this summer, drier than usual. I think almost everybody has some water issues, but right now, we're holding our own," Smith said Wednesday. Dunlap hasn't issued restrictions but the continuing lack of rain could change that.

"It's been really dry, there's no doubt. This is probably the driest summer we've had since the drought a few years ago," Smith said. "The river's not as low as it was then, but everybody's monitoring everything and kind of keeping an eye on it."

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Kim Schofinski said the state didn't have a record of any other nearby water utilities issuing restrictions recently, but she noted those records are updated through weekly phone calls to communities across the state. Elsewhere, Franklin, Spencer and Spring Hill water customers have been asked to voluntarily conserve.

Meanwhile, "we're all hoping for some rain," Schofinski said.

The Oct. 3 U.S. Drought Monitor shows increasing dryness across Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. In the Chattanooga region, nearly all of Hamilton, Meigs and Rhea counties are in severe drought, while adjacent counties, including Bledsoe, are in moderate drought.

A cool front is forecast to pass through this weekend and the chance of up to one-half inch of rain is 30% for Saturday morning, and there are uncertain chances for showers Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, according to WRCB-TV Channel 3's forecast.

If conditions keep worsening, Cagle said, the city could seek state permission to draw water from the Sequatchie River as it did during the 2016 drought. The dry period was still a far cry from the drought of 2007, when governments across the tri-state area were pushing conservation efforts.

"We're trying to hold our own," Cagle said. "Our wells are still pumping pretty good. Hopefully, we'll get some rain."

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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