On Wednesday, the S.C. Drought Response Committee added Aiken to the already-dry counties, including Oconee, Pickens, Anderson, Abbeville, McCormick and Edgefield.
The severe drought designation is the third level of drought, just under “extreme,” which is the top designation. All other counties in the state remain at moderate drought status.
The decision to include Aiken County was based on support from all indicators that the drought was deteriorating in the central Savannah region, according to a release from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
State climatologist Hope Mizzell pointed to the dry winter and early spring, along with most places receiving less than 65 percent of normal rainfall.
“Rainfall during this time of year is crucial for adequate recharge, which did not occur,” she said in a statement. “As we move into late spring and summer it takes normal rainfall just to keep up with evapo-transpiration and increased water demand.”
DNR hydrologist Scott Harder said well levels are lower than 25 percent of normal for parts of South Carolina.
He said the Savannah Basin lakes have been the hardest hit, with lake levels in Hartwell and Thurmond ranging 7 feet to 8 feet below target for this time of year.
Mike Caston, the executive director of the Startex-Jackson-Wellford-Duncan Water District, said a weak economy has led to lower water usage.
“Our utility, and I know other utilities also, have observed lower water demands and these lower demands have been a trend over the last three or four years,” he said. “This has been helpful during this period of drought and will be even more important if the drought continues. … Most of the credit goes to consumers who have answered the call to be better stewards of our water resources and they should be applauded.”