Monitoring of Water Resources to Continue, Water Conservation by Public Necessary
While portions of Massachusetts have experienced measurable amounts of rainfall in the past month, large portions of the state continue to experience rainfall amounts remaining below average. As a result, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Matthew Beaton yesterday declared the following drought levels throughout the Commonwealth: a Drought Warning for the Connecticut River Valley, Western, Central, Northeast, and Southeast Massachusetts, unchanged for the Connecticut River Valley, Central, Northeast and Southeast Regions, and up from a Drought Watch for the Western Region in October; and a Drought Advisory for the Cape and Islands, down from a Drought Watch in October. The declaration was the result of a recommendation issued from a recent meeting of the Drought Management Task Force, comprised of state, federal and local officials, and will remain in effect until water levels return to normal in the affected regions.
“While many communities throughout the Commonwealth have received rain during the month of October, it is important to remember that over 80% of the state continues to experience historic drought conditions, and several months of significant precipitation are needed for water sources to truly rebound,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “The Baker-Polito Administration asks that residents and communities continue to remain diligent in their efforts to conserve water in order to ensure our reservoirs, groundwater, and stream flow systems return to a more sustainable water level.”
“While we are grateful that four of the state’s six regions received above-average precipitation in October, and that the public has taken conservation requests and restrictions seriously and has significantly reduced water consumption, drought conditions continue throughout the state and the need to conserve water remains a priority,” said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Director Kurt Schwartz.
A Drought Warning, as outlined in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan, indicates consecutive months of groundwater, stream flow, and reservoir levels being below normal, and initiates a much more concerted set of government responses including instating water restrictions, and more intensified monitoring and coordination between the agencies. Areas within the Drought Warning are currently experiencing precipitation levels below normal for six out of seven consecutive months. The declaration of a Drought Advisory indicates a level of dry conditions that warrants closer tracking by government agencies.
While certain sub-regions within Central Massachusetts are experiencing much more severe impacts, and areas within the Cape and Islands region are experiencing almost normal conditions, the state continues to intensely monitor and assess the drought situation, and any associated environmental and agricultural impacts. Furthermore, the state asks the public to be mindful of the amount of water they are using, and to eliminate or greatly reduce outdoor water use to ensure essential needs such as drinking water, fire protection, and crop hydration are being met.
For Regions in Drought Warning:
- Outdoor water use should be eliminated.
For Regions in Drought Advisory:
- Outdoor watering with irrigation systems and sprinklers should be limited to no more than one day per week; and
- Watering with a handheld hose should be limited to after 5pm or before 9am (to avoid evaporative losses).
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MassDEP) permits exempt certain water uses from mandatory restrictions, including: for health or safety reasons; the production of food and fiber; the maintenance of livestock; and to meet the core functions of a business. MassDEP continues to provide technical assistance to communities on managing systems, including assistance on use of emergency connections and water supplies, as well as assisting towns on how to request a declaration of drought emergency.
“The month of October has experienced generally good rainfall amounts, but we are still in a significant drought that will take time to get back to normal,” said Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “People should continue to use water wisely, and in particular, as the outdoor water-use season ends, people should look to efforts within the home to conserve water. Fixing leaky faucets, toilets and showerheads is a great way to conserve water and save money.”
To aid farmers and other small businesses, the Baker-Polito Administration launched the Massachusetts Drought Emergency Loan Fund, and continues to work closely with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency. As a result of USDA primary agricultural disaster designations due to losses caused by drought, all Massachusetts counties are now eligible for federal emergency loans through the Farm Service Agency to help recover from crop losses. Additionally, all Massachusetts counties are eligible for federal emergency loans as a result of a USDA primary agricultural disaster designation due to crop losses of tree fruits like peaches that were caused by frost and freeze occurring between February and May.
“Despite having received some much needed rainfall and the fall harvest winding down, the ongoing drought conditions continue to adversely affect farmers across Massachusetts,” said Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux. “We are committed to working with farmers not only through this difficult time, but also to helping farmers adapt their operations in anticipation of future droughts and environmental challenges. We encourage residents to buy local and continue to support our hard-working farmers.”
Task Force officials noted that while reservoir levels, especially smaller systems, are low for this time of year, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) water supply system is not currently experiencing drought conditions, as defined within its individual plan.
“The Quabbin Reservoir is still within normal levels,” said MWRA Executive Director Fred Laskey. “Although we still have a long way to go before we get to a drought stage, we continue to encourage residents and businesses within our service area to conserve water in their daily routines.”
The declaration of a Drought Warning and Drought Advisory requires the Drought Management Task Force to meet on a regular basis to more closely assess conditions across the state, coordinate dissemination of information to the public, and help state, federal and local agencies prepare any responses that may be needed in the future. The Task Force will next meet in December. For further information on water conservation and what you can do, visit the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ drought page, the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s drought management page, MassDEP Water Conservation page, as well as MDAR’s “Drought Resources for Farmers” page.