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Experts fret over water levels in Western Pa.

The drought plaguing the eastern part of the state hasn't reached Western Pennsylvania, but the Pittsburgh region is dry enough that it's beginning to worry water-management authorities and meteorologists.

Rivers in this region now have water levels typically seen in August and the Army Corps of Engineers said it is having difficulty filling some of the 16 reservoirs it manages in the Upper Ohio River basin, including Conemaugh River Lake in Indiana County and Youghiogheny Lake in Fayette County.

"We are concerned about the next several months. If this trend continues, we'll have less water available in the summer. We count on that water to provide flows for navigation and to mitigate pollution," said Werner Loehlein, chief of water management for the Army Corps in Pittsburgh.

Alex Sosnowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather in State College, said Western Pennsylvania is in better shape than the eastern part of the state partly because it had more rain in March. But, he said, "If we don't get some decent rainstorms, it will be difficult to make up for this once summer starts."

Conditions in central and eastern sections of the state are the most severe and have resulted in brush and forest fires and burn bans in several counties.

More than 140 fires have burned 1,201 acres in the state so far this year, according to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Last week, wildfires broke out in Berks, Chester, Dauphin and McKean counties. Three fires, including the Berks County fire and earlier fires in Luzerne and Cameron counties, each burned more than 100 acres.

On Wednesday, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission suspended withdrawals of water at 17 sites because of stream flow levels dropping throughout the Susquehanna basin. Much of the area is designated as in official drought.

The majority of those suspended withdrawals are for natural gas companies drilling in Bradford, Luzerne, Susquehanna, Tioga and Lycoming counties, the commission said in a statement.

Suspending water supplies to natural gas companies on the west side would not be considered until there is a drought declaration, said John Poister, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

No single commission oversees the Pittsburgh region's rivers, and the state controls any restrictions on water use.

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