Opinion

Remember lessons of the drought of '07

Two things ought to stand out starkly in the minds of North Carolinians as we wind up another spring and head into summer:

The recent record heat wave that brought July-August conditions in mid-June is the kind of weather that helped produce last year's extraordinary drought.

A wildfire burning in Eastern North Carolina should drive home the point that we need not only to conserve water supplies against a day when we begin running low, but that we also must be vigilant against an array of threats, natural and otherwise.

North Carolina's eastern boundary is the salty water of the Atlantic Ocean, but we're vulnerable to such threats as droughts, wildfires, hurricanes and flooding, among others. Earthquakes and tornadoes have also taken their toll here, and being prepared for nature's wrath sometimes is the only choice we have. The annual hurricane season began June 1. While many North Carolinians take the predictions from hurricane forecasters with a grain of salt, the prevalence of devastating storms on our coastline and inland is a sobering fact.

We can't prevent storms, but we can do something about wildfires and water conservation. N.C. residents must be alert to the dangers of fires during dry, hot periods. And, as Sen. Elizabeth Dole points out in a letter this week to President Bush, a wildfire burning in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge continues to spread despite the efforts of more than 300 firefighters and support personnel. It's time for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to grant the state's request for fire management assistance in three counties of northeastern North Carolina. The fire has spread over more than 40,000 acres and is believed to be the largest current wildfire in the country.

Closer inland, heavy spring rains alleviated the effects of a recent prolonged drought and a number of cities and towns relaxed their restrictions on water use. That may not have been wise, given a recent decline in rains and the fact that streams feeding the state's largest urban water supplies are running at a fraction of their normal flow. While reservoirs are full, they won't stay that way for long without a significant increase in rainfall accompanied by adequate water conservation measures.

The good news is that water users have shown restraint in water consumption in a number of areas, signs that they remember the warnings from last summer when supplies seemed inadequate. They appear ready to respond with greater conservation efforts, but local officials must lead the way. That's part of their job.

State legislators, too, have a role in considering legislation to give the governor adequate authority to act in times of drought. Before they adjourn the current short session, they must act on proposals to deal more effectively with droughts a dry, hot summer is sure to bring.

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