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Answers sought for drop on Shenandoah's North Fork

Saturday - 8/18/2012, 5:36pm  ET

HARRISONBURG, Va. - Officials are trying to figure out what caused water levels to drop twice in a four-day span this summer along the Shenandoah River's North Fork.

The Daily News-Record ( http://bit.ly/NNqPAK) reports the Shenandoah Riverkeeper advocacy group has sent letters asking about 800 landowners to report unusual observations about the river.

Data taken from a U.S. Geological Survey gauge near Strasburg shows the water level dropped more than 3 inches on June 29, the day a severe windstorm struck the region. The levels dropped again on July 3.

The river's level hit 1.7 feet on June 29 after being at about 2.4 feet around June 20. In the span of a few hours on June 29, the water flow went from 175 to 65 cubic feet per second.

Gauges throughout Shenandoah County and north to Winchester reported alarming water-level losses, while those in Rockingham County didn't show a severe drop.

Many towns draw water from the river, including Broadway, Timberville, Woodstock and Strasburg. Jeff Kelble, head of the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, sent out the letters to landowners and also has met with operators of water-withdrawal facilities along the North Fork.

"Nobody's ever seen anything like this," he said.

Scott Kudlas, director of water supply for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said it's unlikely that agriculture operations using the North Fork to combat extreme heat would have caused the water levels to suddenly drop.

"It's not atypical during drought periods to see these unusual events, (but) most of the time we can explain them," Kudlas said. "In this case, it's one of those we weren't really able to find the smoking gun."

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Information from: Daily News-Record, http://www.dnronline.com


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