BOSTON — Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Beth Card today declared the Connecticut River Valley and Southeast Regions will join the Northeast and Central Regions as a Level 3-Critical Drought. The Cape Cod Region will elevate to a Level 2-Significant Drought, and the Islands and Western Regions will remain at a Level 1-Mild Drought. As outlined in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan, a Level-3 Critical Drought and a Level 2-Significant Drought calls for the convening of an inter-agency Mission Group, which has already began to meet, to more closely coordinate on drought assessments, impacts, and response within the government. Additionally, a Level 1-Mild Drought recommends detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, and technical outreach and assistance to the affected municipalities.
“With the majority of the state now experiencing a Level-3-Critical Drought, it is incredibly important that we all practice water conservation and adhere to local requirements and recommendations in order avoid over stressing our water resources,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card. “Efforts to minimize water usage now will help our water systems to rebound more quickly, and ensure that essential public health, safety and environmental needs continue to be met.”
“The continued dry, hot weather has increased drought-related hazards for much of Massachusetts including the risk for fires,” said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Acting Director Dawn Brantley. “We need the public to be especially careful during this time by adhering to local water use restrictions, and exercising caution around any outdoor activities that increase the risk of brush and forest fires such as barbecues, campfires, and safe disposal of smoking materials.”
The month of July 2022 experienced minimal precipitation and high temperatures throughout the state. Rainfall was the lowest across eastern Massachusetts, particularly within Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard reporting less than an inch of rain, less than 50% of normal precipitation. Within eastern Massachusetts, rainfall totals ranked within the top 15 driest Julys on record with Boston and the Blue Hills experiencing the 4th driest. However, slightly higher rainfall totals occurred across much of central and western Massachusetts, ranging from 50 to 100 percent of normal, as well as on Nantucket. Totals ranged mostly between two and four inches, while some locations in the Springfield area and southern Berkshire County experienced higher totals of four to five inches.
Additionally, the Commonwealth is also experiencing decreasing levels in some reservoirs, dry streambeds, ponding, and diminished extent of streams in many watersheds leading to lack of flow, increased turbidity, higher water temperature, and increase in growth of plants and algae in the water. Groundwater, which is a slow reacting index, is starting to be impacted in many regions. Caution is also advised as fire activity has increased across the state as drought conditions have set in, and wildfires in remote areas with delayed response are now burning deep into the organic soil layers. Drought induced fire behavior can result in suppression challenges for fire resources and result in extended incidents so residents are asked to exercise caution while working with open flames, and to completely drown all campfires out cold.
The agricultural sector continues to also experience drought impacts, such as some depletion of water sources, and production acreage and are irrigating crops on a more consistent basis due to current precipitation deficits, high temperatures, and low soil moisture. Consumers are encouraged to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and other products at local farm stands and retail stores throughout the Commonwealth.
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.
Below are recommendations for communities and individuals living and working within a Level 3 – Critical Drought, Level 2 – Significant Drought and 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 3 – Critical Drought
Residents and Businesses:
- Minimize overall water use.
- Stop all non-essential outdoor watering.
Immediate Steps for Communities:
- Adopt and implement the state’s nonessential outdoor water use restrictions for drought; Level 3 restriction calls for a ban on all nonessential outdoor water use.
- Provide timely information on the drought and on water conservation tips to local residents and businesses.
- Enforce water use restrictions with increasingly stringent penalties.
- Strongly discourage or prohibit installation of new sod, seeding, and/or landscaping; washing of hard surfaces (sidewalks, patios, driveways, siding); personal vehicle or boat washing; filling of swimming pools.
- Establish or enhance 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.
- Implement or establish drought surcharge or seasonal water rates.
- Prepare to activate emergency inter-connections for water supply.
- Develop or refine your local drought management plan using guidance outlined in the state Drought Management Plan.