The water level at Oneida's Howard H. Baker Sr. Watershed Lake has climbed above the top intake (seen well above the water line in this November 2016 photo) for the first time in months. (Ben Garrett/IH)

The Town of Oneida officially lifted mandatory water restrictions for its water customers Monday, as lake levels at the Howard H. Baker Sr. Watershed Lake continue to climb.

Oneida Water Department plant operator Mike Keeton said the water restrictions were going from mandatory to voluntary as the town scaled back its drought management plan to Stage I.

Citizens are still requested to voluntarily conserve water by eliminating non-essential usage, such as washing vehicles or watering lawns.

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In early December, the northern Cumberland Plateau was in an "extreme drought," according to the federal Drought Monitor, the fourth of five levels used by the agency to classify drought conditions. However, multiple storm systems brought above-average rainfall to the region in December, leading to improved conditions across the state. Last week, the Drought Monitor reduced the drought status in Scott County from "moderate drought" to "abnormally dry."

Still, drought conditions persist in much of East Tennessee. According to the Drought Monitor's latest report, 38 percent of the state remains in a moderate drought, while 13 percent remains in a severe drought. Most of the state, or 77 percent, remains abnormally dry, meaning it would not take much in the way of a prolonged dry spell for drought conditions to return.

The Town of Oneida has supplemented its dwindling water supply by purchasing water from Huntsville Utility District, pumping from the Flat Creek Reservoir five days per week since implementing the second stage of its drought plan in November. The town's water source at the Baker Watershed recently received a shot in the arm when the Oneida City Park lake reached capacity and began to spill over, allowing the town to pump excess water from city park into the watershed.

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