Commonwealth Experiences Drought Improvements in Majority of State: Cape Cod, Islands, and Northeast Continue To Have Drought Impacts

Special to the Journal

While the Commonwealth experienced an increase in precipitation over the previous month, there are regions of the state that continue to be impacted by long term drought conditions, and today Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Beth Card announced the following drought declarations: the Central and Southeast Regions have upgraded and will join the Western Region at Level 0-Normal Conditions; the Northeast and Cape Cod Regions have been upgraded and will join the Connecticut River Valley Region at Level 1-Mild Drought; and, the Islands Region will remain at Level 2-Significant Drought. Important to note, while the Northeast Region has been declared a Level 1-Mild Drought at a regional scale, the northern and coastal parts of the region,namely Essex County, which includes the Merrimack River, the Parker River, and Ipswich River basins, continues to be more severely impacted by long term drought conditions.

As outlined in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan, a Level 1-Mild Drought warrants detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, and technical outreach and assistance to the affected municipalities. Additionally, a Level 2-Significant Drought calls for the convening of an interagency mission group, which is already meeting, to more closely coordinate on drought assessments, impacts, and responses within state government.

“With significant rainfall occurring throughout much of the state, many of the Commonwealth’s water systems are starting to rebound from long term drought,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card. “While this is largely good news, portions of the state, such as the Merrimack River, Parker, and Ipswich River basins and the Islands Region, continue to lag behind, so we ask that everyone continue to practice household water conservation as we move into the winter season.”

Today’s declarations are the result of recommendations made by the state’s Drought Management Task Force, which is composed of state and federal officials, and other entities. The taskforce will continue to meet until water levels return to normal in all affected regions of the state. Significantly, the task force noted that in October, the state received 3 to 8 inches of rain. The highest precipitation amounts were observed across southeastern Massachusetts and the Cape Cod and Islands Regions, where 5 to 8 inches of rain fell (from 1 to 4 inches above normal for October). Tropical Storm Nicole brought varied showers across the state, helping alleviate drought conditions and delivering more water into ground water systems.

Below are recommendations for communities and individuals living and working within a Level 2 – Significant Drought region and a Level 1 – Mild Drought region, including those utilizing a private well. Residents and businesses are also asked to check with their local water system in case more stringent watering restrictions are in place.

For Regions in Level 2 – Significant Drought

Residents and Businesses:

Minimize overall water use;

Limit outdoor watering to hand-held hoses or watering cans, to be used only after 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m.; and,

Follow local water use restrictions, if more stringent.

Immediate Steps for Communities:

Adopt and implement the state’s nonessential outdoor water use restrictions for drought; Level 2 restriction calls for limiting outdoor watering to hand-held hoses or watering cans, to be used only after 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m. If local restrictions are more stringent, continue to keep them in place during the course of the drought;

Limit or prohibit installation of new sod, seeding, and/or landscaping; watering during or within 48 hours after measurable rainfall; washing of hard surfaces (sidewalks, patios, driveways, siding); personal vehicle or boat washing; filling of swimming pools; and,

Establish water-use reduction targets for all water users and identify top water users and conduct targeted outreach to help curb their use.

Short- and Medium-Term Steps for Communities:

Establish a year-round water conservation program that includes public education and communication;

Provide timely information to local residents and businesses;

Implement or establish drought surcharge or seasonal water rates;

Check emergency inter-connections for water supply; and,

Develop or refine your local drought management plan using guidance outlined in the state Drought Management Plan.

For Region in Level 1 – Mild Drought

Residents and Businesses:

Toilets, faucets and showers are more than 60% of indoor use.  Make sure yours are WaterSense efficient;

Limit outdoor watering to 1 day a week (only from 5:00PM – 9:00AM), or less frequently if required by your water supplier; and,

Switch to more drought-tolerant plants.

Short- and Medium-Term Steps for Communities:

Establish a year-round water conservation program that includes public education and communication;

Provide timely information to local residents and businesses;

Check emergency inter-connections for water supply; and,

Develop a local drought management plan.

Additionally, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) will continue to provide technical assistance to communities on managing systems, including assistance on use of emergency connections and water supplies.

“Thanks to the residents of the Commonwealth for their efforts this summer to reduce demand on our water resources, which helped local suppliers to keep the water flowing,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “As we change seasons, I’d ask residents to focus their efforts on reducing demand by looking inside their homes and making water conservation an important part of your activities.”

It is important to note that the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) water supply system is not experiencing drought conditions, as defined within its individual plan. Private wells, local streams, wetlands, vernal pools, and other water-dependent habitats located within MWRA-serviced areas are being impacted by drought conditions while water quality in ponds can deteriorate due to lowering of levels and stagnation.

The Drought Management Task Force will meet again on Wednesday, December 7, 2022, at 1:00PM. For further information on water conservation and what residents can do, please visit EEA’s Drought page and water conservation page. To get the most up-to-date information on the drought indices, go to the state’s drought dashboard page. Additionally, the Commonwealth is surveying the public for any drought impacts that are currently being experienced. To participate, please visit the Massachusetts Water Impact Reporter webpage.

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