A combination of scorching heat and drought is starting to raise anxiety levels about water supplies in some parts of Kentucky as demand grows to keep lawns green and gardens producing. The state says no water systems are experiencing supply shortages. But some communities are asking residents to voluntarily conserve water for non-essential uses such as washing vehicles and watering lawns and gardens.
"The raw water situation is concerning right now, but it's not yet to the point where people are having shortages because of the drought," Bill Caldwell with the state Division of Water said in a phone interview Friday. "Unless we get some miraculous reversal in the outlook, we're going to get there in some places but we're not there yet."
That could eventually mean mandatory limits on water use in some areas if the drought persists.
The two-week outlook for Kentucky calls for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation.
Forecasters predicted another round of blistering heat Friday after highs reached triple digits statewide on Thursday.
The worst of the dry spell is in western Kentucky, where rainfall has been scarce since March and April.
The state climatologist's office put 24 counties in Kentucky's westernmost region in the severe drought category. In those areas, people face increased risk of wildfires, depletion of water supplies in shallow wells, springs and ponds and higher demands on water treatment plants.
The region's many farmers are facing low yields or crop losses.
Another 66 counties are in moderate to severe drought. That area stretches from portions of western Kentucky to the state's Appalachian region in the east. In those counties, the dry spell is hurting soil moisture and vegetation.
Caldwell said the intense heat and dry conditions more resemble what Kentuckians are accustomed to in late summer.
"It's highly unusual to have one start this early and then persist clear through the summer and into the fall," he said. "If that happens, then you've got one of those 1 in 50 or 1 in 100 (year) droughts."
Meanwhile, the hot, dry conditions stoked fears about wildfires erupting.
Burn bans have become routine across the state due to the tinderbox conditions.
The state said Friday it is banning fireworks, campfires and charcoal grilling in the Pennyrile State Forest in western Kentucky.
The state-owned property in Caldwell and Christian counties will be patrolled by state forestry employees. People violating the ban will be subject to fines up to $500 and could be held responsible for paying the costs of putting out fires they caused, the state warned.
"We want people to enjoy the forest, but the wildfire danger is too high to be taking chances with open fire in backcountry camping areas," said Leah MacSwords, director of the state Division of Forestry.