March 8th, 2002 - Task Force Extends Drought Watch Statewide
BOSTON, MA - The Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force, at a March 7th meeting at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Headquarters in Framingham, has extended the drought watch to the entire state. Previously, the Connecticut River Valley, Central and Northeast regions of Massachusetts had been under a drought watch and the Western, Southeast, and Cape Cod and the Islands were under a drought advisory. A drought advisory was initially issued for the entire state in December following below normal levels of precipitation last fall. Though fall and winter months are not peak water use periods, they are typically the time when reservoirs and groundwater are recharged. Continued below normal levels of precipitation have resulted in low reservoir levels and groundwater levels for many water supply systems across the state. With only a few weeks of ideal spring recharge conditions remaining to bring reservoirs and groundwater up to normal operating levels, there is an increased likelihood of more serious conditions when water use increases in mid-spring.
The National Weather Service has stated that there are signs that the current weather pattern may be changing to one that brings a more regular series of storms, but there are no indications that above normal rainfall will occur to reduce the precipitation deficit. In addition, the lack of snow pack across the state has eliminated an important source of normal spring recharge. The National Weather Service also predicted that March may have above normal temperatures. Due to the growing seriousness of the situation and the short time remaining in the recharge season, the Drought Management Task Force has extended the Drought Watch to the entire state.
The Drought Watch level indicates hydrologic conditions are favorable for development of a more serious drought. The watch level is the third of five action levels related to drought conditions that are outlined in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan. The five action levels of the Drought Management Plan are: Normal, Advisory, Watch, Warning and Emergency.
The areas experiencing the most water supply reservoir impacts include the Western, Connecticut River Valley, Central and Northeast regions of the state. All regions have increased susceptibility to wildfires due to unusually dry soil conditions. Groundwater levels and streamflows in most of the state are near record lows for this time of year. The Quabbin Reservoir, operated by the Metropolitan District Commission, has entered into the below normal system status. However, due to its large storage capacity, the system can withstand extended dry periods without impacting its ability to supply water. Smaller surface water systems and water supply systems that face chronic water shortages are generally the systems most impacted by the current dry conditions. The Drought Management Task Force is meeting on a regular basis to assess conditions across the state, coordinate dissemination of information to the public, and help state, federal and local agencies coordinate any responses that may be needed.
To respond to this drought watch, the Drought Management Task Force recommends that water conservation efforts continue to be made. The Task Force has prepared water conservation tips for public water suppliers and citizens (see attached). Public water suppliers should implement drought response plans as necessary to respond to their system requirements and assure water supply availability in the event of below normal spring recharge. Homeowners and other water users are advised to follow any guidance and adhere to any restrictions that may be put in place by their local water supplier. Homeowners and other facilities with private wells are advised to monitor local conditions accordingly. If not already in place, municipalities are urged to develop water use restriction bylaws and ordinances to allow for system demand management when the spring and summer peak water use period begins.
The state's rainfall has declined steadily since the middle of August 2001, with cumulative precipitation 61% of normal for the last six months, or an average of 8.61 inches less than normal 22 inches. In addition, streamflow is near record lows in many areas of the state. Ground water levels have remained below normal for 5 months. Other New England states and New York have also been suffering from drought conditions since early summer.
The drought watch level is based on thresholds contained in the state's Drought Management Plan. The Drought Management Plan was developed by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. The purpose of the plan is to guide state activities in response to droughts and extended periods of dry weather.
The Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force is composed of liaisons from Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Department of Fish & Wildlife, Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Metropolitan District Commission, Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Weather Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Massachusetts Water Works Association, the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards and the Water Supply Citizens Advisory Committee.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is the state agency responsible for coordinating federal, state and local resources to protect the public during disasters and emergencies. MEMA helps develop plans for effective response to all hazards, trains emergency personnel, provides information to families and communities, and assists in recovery from disaster losses. You can learn about MEMA and this topic by visiting the MEMA homepage.