April 11, 2002 - Statewide Drought Watch Continues
BOSTON, MA - The Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force, at an April 9th meeting at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Headquarters in Framingham, continued the statewide drought watch.
Despite slightly above normal levels of rainfall for the month of March the state continues to have a long-term rainfall deficit that is resulting in below normal streamflow, groundwater and reservoir levels. Above normal rainfall in March improved many water supply reservoir levels, however system capacities continue to be below normal. Most suppliers try to fill their reservoirs by the end of April, while recharge conditions are optimal, to be prepared for increased summer water use. However, the Task Force remains concerned that the somewhat improved conditions as a result of precipitation in March may be temporary given the significant long-term deficit and the increased stress on water resources that accompanies the warmer spring and summer weather. A drought advisory was initially issued for the entire state in December following below normal levels of precipitation last fall. The entire state was raised to a drought watch in early March.
The National Weather Service has stated that although beneficial rains did fall at the very onset of April, little rain has fallen since then. Precipitation totals for this month so far are near normal. Although there will be additional chances for rain over the next 2 weeks, this precipitation is not expected to be significant enough to start alleviating our long term deficit. Above normal temperatures are expected as well. According to the U.S. Geological Survey groundwater and streamflow levels statewide are below normal for the sixth consecutive month, with a significant number of stations at record low levels for this time of year. Although groundwater and streamflow levels have been rising, they are expected to reach their seasonal peak by the end of this month. Without significant rainfall, streamflow and ground water levels may drop quickly in response to increased spring temperatures, foliage development and water use. The lack of snow pack across the state has eliminated an important source of normal spring recharge.
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.
Water supply reservoir impacts have occurred statewide. Small and medium water supply reservoir systems are generally the systems most impacted by the current dry conditions. All regions have increased susceptibility to wildfires due to unusually dry soil conditions. 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 affecting its ability to supply water.
The Drought Management Task Force will continue to monitor the conditions closely in the coming weeks as there is the potential for rapidly worsening conditions. The Task Force assesses conditions across the state, coordinates dissemination of information to the public, and helps 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 which can be viewed here. 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 65% of normal for the last six months, or an average of 7.9 inches less than normal 22.6 inches. In addition, streamflow is near record lows in many areas of the state. Ground water levels have remained below normal for 6 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.