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Drought conditions affecting summer fun

At the halfway point of 2007, Mississippi’s weather can be summed up in one word — dry. With the hot, dry weeks of July and August still ahead, large sections of the state were experiencing double-digit rainfall deficits in early July. As example, Jackson was approximately 16 inches below normal as of July 2, and no significant rain was in the forecast.

On June 27, NOAA’s U.S. Drought Monitor showed all areas of the state, except the Gulf Coast, which was ranked as “abnormally dry,” in varying degrees of drought, with parts of East Mississippi rated “exceptional,” the highest on the scale.

The drought is beginning to show its effects on state rivers, lakes and ponds, negatively affecting such activities as boating and fishing.

Shallow water

Not only is the state in the midst of a drought in 2007, it has seen extremely dry conditions over the past couple of years, and that is starting to significantly impact boating and fishing.

In early June, the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks passed a notice of intent to set new regulations on crappie fishing at Grenada, Sardis and Enid reservoirs and Arkabutla Lake. The public notice, which allows for a 30-day public comment period, would modify the creel limit and the number of poles per angler.

“This is the third straight year we’ve had low-water levels at these reservoirs,” said Ron Garavelli, fisheries bureau director for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. “Records show we’ve had an increase in fishing pressure, and they’re catching record numbers of fish, but the size of the fish is decreasing.”

At press time, water levels at the Ross Barnett Reservoir had not reached the critical point, but Pearl River Water Supply District general manager Benny French said if the drought persists, concerns would rise accordingly.

“The reservoir reached its lowest level ever in 2000, and we’re currently above that level this year,” he said. “However, it could be a real concern, going forward, if we do not see some rainfall.”

Ross Barnett is critical to the greater Jackson’s water supply, and French was quick to say that the drought was in no way threatening that supply, and does not foresee that happening. But recreational activities on the Ross Barnett could be seriously impacted if water levels keep dropping.

Lower water levels are also a hazard to boaters. Stumps, snags and other underwater obstacles that were well below the surface previously are now a source for potential accidents.

Lane Ball, major of the enforcement bureau of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said falling water levels statewide should raise a red flag with boaters. His message is simple — stay cautious and remember the basics.

“I’ve been in this business for 21 years, and I’ve never pulled out a drowning victim due to a boating accident that was wearing a life jacket,” he said. “With the drop in water levels like we’re seeing, you can come through an area one week and be fine, and the next week hit a stump. You just have to be careful and be aware.”

Ball added that when the rains do return, that is no reason to let one’s guard down. In fact, rains can cause more problems.

“A big rain can wash down debris, creating new underwater obstacles that weren’t there before,” Ball said.

Water hazard?

Not everyone is singing the blues over the parched conditions. The cloudless skies and generally low humidity this summer have been great for the golfing industry with courses reporting heavy player traffic.

Richard Walsh, head PGA professional with Timberton Golf Club in Hattiesburg, said unusually warm and dry conditions this past winter brought in many more golfers than normal. And that trend held through the spring and continues this summer.

“It’s been great. We’re staying booked,” Walsh said.

Nathan Crace with Watermark Golf Management, LLC, which manages The Refuge in Flowood, reported business remained brisk there, as well. The Refuge is seeing more and more golfers come out to enjoy the course and the stellar weather.

The drought is having a negative effect on golfing, though. The lack of rain has forced course managers to turn to irrigation to keep greens and fairways from burning. Walsh said Timberton is fortunate to have two stream-fed lakes that give it a ready source of water, and the course was in great shape.

The Refuge’s driving range lake is also its water reservoir, and is 20 feet deep. Crace said that offers the course a dependable source of water, but did say the staff was not watering the whole course. However, he said the course, in general, was in fine shape.

A great way to beat the heat without having to leave home is a splash in the backyard pool. Swimming pool businesses said they are generally seeing an increase in business.

Saundra Bull, manager of Aloha Pool and Spa in Flowood, said her phone started ringing early this year.

“In Mississippi, the swimming season can start as early as February, but usually doesn’t really pick up until late April or May,” she said. “But we got busier earlier this year. We started getting inquiries about pools in January.”

Randy Cavanaugh, owner of Blue Haven Pools & Spas, also in Flowood, echoed Bull.

“Last year was pretty dry, but this year seems a little worse,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re a touch ahead of last year’s sales.”

Both Bull and Cavanaugh said the dry conditions have also been good to their business in another way. The lack of rain has meant fine weather for pool construction.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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