EEA Announces Drought Conditions Have Improved

With several recent precipitation events in September that directly benefited Massachusetts’ hydrological systems, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Beth Card  announced that drought conditions have improved in all regions of the state, and made the following drought declarations: the Western Region has been upgraded to Level 0-Normal Conditions; the Connecticut River Valley, Central Region, and Southeast Regions have been upgraded to Level 1-Mild Drought; and, the Northeast and Cape Cod Regions have been upgraded and will join the Islands Region as a Level 2-Significant Drought. 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.

“Even though recent rainfall over the past month has been extremely beneficial to the Commonwealth’s water systems, it is important to remember that the majority of the state has had an insufficient amount of precipitation this year,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Beth Card. “State agencies will continue to closely monitor conditions, especially in locations that didn’t receive as much rain, such as the coastal part of the Northeast, the elbow area on Cape Cod, and Islands Regions, and we ask that everyone continues practicing water conservation in an effort to further assist the rebounding of local water systems.”

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 the affected regions. The task force noted that September rains have resulted in some recovery for both streamflow and groundwater; however, drought impacts continue to be seen, including some remaining dry streams and numerous slow-recharging or deeper wells across the state. Due to remaining low groundwater and less rain since the end of September and start of October, streamflow in some areas are beginning to decline again. Therefore, additional precipitation is needed to continue recovering from the drought and fully recharge the ecosystem. Additionally, coastal regions northeast of Boston, as well as the elbow of Cape Cod from Hyannis to Wellfleet are still exceptionally dry.

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:

1 Minimize overall water use.

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

3 Follow local water use restrictions, if more stringent.

Immediate Steps for Communities:

1 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.

2 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.

3 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:

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

2 Provide timely information to local residents and businesses.

3 Implement or establish drought surcharge or seasonal water rates.

4 Check emergency inter-connections for water supply.

5 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:

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

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

3 Switch to more drought-tolerant plants.

Short- and Medium-Term Steps for Communities:

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

2 Provide timely information to local residents and businesses;

3 Check emergency inter-connections for water supply;

4 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.

“Drought conditions are improving in many areas of the Commonwealth, but the effort to conserve water remains as important today as it did earlier in the summer,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “Please continue to follow the instructions of your local water supplier to help conserve this precious resource.”

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, November 9, 2022, at 10:00AM. 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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