BOSTON — Due to four months of below normal rainfall, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Kathleen Theoharides recently declared a Level 2 – Significant Drought in all seven regions of the Commonwealth – the Western, Connecticut River Valley, Central, Northeast, Southeast, Cape Cod, and Islands regions. The drought level remains unchanged from the previous month’s declaration. At a Level 2 – Significant Drought, as outlined in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan, conditions are becoming significantly dry and warrant detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, emphasis on water conservation, more stringent watering restrictions, and technical outreach and assistance for the affected municipalities.
“Although recent rain events have been helpful, the combination of four months of below normal rainfall and consistently above normal temperatures throughout the summer have led to very dry conditions in every region of Massachusetts,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “All levels of government are coordinating to address these critical drought conditions, and it is essential that residents and businesses across the Commonwealth take extra care to conserve water both indoors and outdoors and be mindful of the increased risk of brush and wildland fire when using any fire or smoking materials.”
“As we head into fall and continue to experience drought conditions across the state, the public is urged to continue conserving water in order to reduce the demand on water supplies,” said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Director Samantha Phillips. “With an increased threat of brush and wildland fires due to dry conditions, we urge residents to exercise caution when using charcoal grills, matches, and other open flames during outdoor activities and to call 911 immediately if there is a fire to prevent the fire from spreading.”
The declaration was informed by recommendations and discussions from a recent meeting of the Drought Management Task Force (DMTF), composed of state and federal officials and other entities, and will remain in effect until water levels return to normal in the affected regions.
Rainfall totals for August were below normal across the majority of the state. Rainfall was generally the lowest across southeastern Massachusetts, the Cape and Islands, and the highest in the Berkshires and central Worcester County. Meanwhile, temperatures remained above normal, as August temperatures averaged 2 to 4 degrees above normal across much of Massachusetts.
Additionally, wildland fire risk continues across the state. Extended drought conditions have rendered grasses, shrubs and forest fuels very dry across most of the state, and extremely dry in areas of the Southeast, resulting in increased wildfire risk and added challenges for firefighting agencies. Long term precipitation deficits have also led to extremely dry soil conditions, which results in fires burning deep into the ground, and taking multiple days to extinguish. These conditions exhaust local resources and increase risk to firefighter safety. Fire officials remind the public to be very aware of this situation, and to be careful with all open burning and disposal of combustible materials.
The state continues to intensely monitor and assess the drought situation, and any associated environmental, municipal and agricultural impacts. Task Force officials also noted that the state’s streamflow saw overall improvement in July because of scattered rainfall. However, within the first two weeks of August, conditions seem to have worsened, with overall monthly streamflow levels well below normal in most regions. The state asks residents in every region across the Commonwealth to be very mindful of the amount of water they are using, to be proactive in reducing or eliminating outdoor water use, to reduce indoor water use, and to address plumbing leaks as soon as possible. Limiting nonessential outdoor watering is one of the most effective ways to minimize the impacts of drought on water supply and the environment, and ensure there is enough water for fire protection. All these steps will help reduce water use to ensure essential needs such as drinking water and fire protection are being met, and habitats have enough water to recover.
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. one day a week.
- Follow local water use restrictions.
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; operation of non-recirculating fountains; filling of swimming pools, hot tubs, and backyard informal rinks.
- Implement drought surcharge or seasonal water rates.
- 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;
- Check emergency inter-connections for water supply; and
- Develop a local drought management plan using guidance outlined in the state Drought Management Plan.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (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.
“Water suppliers should continue to work with their customers and educate them on strategies to manage demand during this time period,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “It is essential that regions across Massachusetts embrace conservation practices to avoid added stress on drinking water resources and other water-dependent habitats.”
The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) water supply system is not currently experiencing drought conditions, as defined within its individual plan.
The declaration of a Level 2 – Significant Drought 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 meet on a monthly basis or more frequently as conditions warrant; the next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at 10:00 am and will be held virtually via Zoom.
Last year, EEA completed a two-year process and updated the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan to better assess drought conditions across the state and maximize the state’s ability to prepare for and respond to a drought. The Plan also provides guidance to communities on drought preparedness and outlines response actions that can be taken at the local level.
For further information on water conservation and what residents and communities can do, visit the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ drought page.
–MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
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