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The ground is dry instead of hidden under the water at Lake Moultrie near Russellville Flats due to the drought January 22, 2008. Alan Hawes/Staff

The southern half of South Carolina, from Orangeburg County on down, has entered the state's mildest drought stage after suffering below-average rainfall during the last 60 days. 

The state has long been subject to variable falls of rain with conditions oscillating between dry and sunny periods to stormy, near-tropical rainfalls. But since March 1, the region has seen a rain deficit of slightly more than 3 inches, Rebecca Davidson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston said. 

There isn't any rain expected for at least the next week, Davidson said.

State climate officials said they expect the "incipient" drought — declared in 15 counties — will persist for at least the short term.

The affected swath is a chunk of the state with starting in Edgefield County, running down to Orangeburg and then up to Williamsburg County. All are farming regions.

Drought conditions as of 5.14.19

Drought conditions in South Carolina as of May 14, 2019. Courtesy S.C. Department of Natural Resources. 

Clay Duffie, general manager for Mount Pleasant Waterworks, said the utility has seen higher water use in recent weeks. In Mount Pleasant, the peak water usage day is typically Memorial Day, but Duffie said that last year's peak usage record has already been broken.

“The lack of rainfall is causing irrigation demands to increase so we are encouraging businesses and residents to make sure their irrigation systems are working properly and to not over irrigate,” Duffie said in a release.

“This time of year, we often find residents are putting two to four times as much water as needed on their landscape,” he added.

The S.C. State Climate Office suggests only running your dishwasher when full, turning off the faucet while brushing teeth and landscaping in a drought-friendly way: planting native species and using mulch.

Duffie also suggested checking for leaks in irrigation systems and limiting the amount of time sprinklers are on.

The typical yard needs no more than an inch of water a week, he said. 

Mike Saia, a spokesman for Charleston Water System, said that demand levels are normal for this time of year, and that there's no reason for concern for customers. 

"We have the second largest watershed on the East Coast, and drought has never been a challenge for us, and we don't foresee it being a challenge in the future for providing ample and safe drinking water for customers," he said.

The state has been affected in the past by severe droughts, including one in 2002 that put the whole state into the worst drought category. 

It's possible the current issue could sort itself out relatively quickly, however. The NWS' Climate Prediction Center projects that by July 31, the drought in coastal South Carolina will cease. 

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Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.

Chloe Johnson covers the coastal environment and climate change for the Post and Courier. She's always looking for a good excuse to hop on a boat.

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