August 14th, 2002 - Drought Deepens, Watch Level for Southeast and Cape
BOSTON, MA - The Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force, at its August 13th meeting at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Headquarters in Framingham, recommended that the drought designation for the southeast and Cape Cod/Islands regions of the state be increased to watch level. The other regions of Massachusetts remain at drought advisory level.
July and August precipitation in Massachusetts has been far below normal. Precipitation totals for the month of July averaged only 51 percent of normal. The southeast and Cape Cod regions have received less than half an inch of rain so far during August, with the Cape receiving less than 20 percent of normal. Although the state's rainfall improved steadily between March and June 2002, the lack of precipitation during July and August has caused surface water and ground water conditions to deteriorate. Fire danger levels in the drought watch areas are very high, and forest fires have developed, including a large fire in Plymouth. Soil moisture is low in the coastal areas of Massachusetts and is causing difficulties in extinguishing fires. The National Weather Service is forecasting drier than normal conditions for New England through November 2002 and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that drought conditions are likely to develop in the region over this period.
Water supply reservoirs throughout most of Massachusetts generally appear to be at levels that are able to meet current demands. The Quabbin Reservoir, operated by the Metropolitan District Commission, is 83 percent full, remaining in 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. Water suppliers on the Cape and Islands and in Southeastern Massachusetts are being affected by the extreme dry conditions and some are struggling to meet water demands. Additional public water suppliers have imposed water use restriction in the past month, mostly in the southeast region of the state. It is expected that the voluntary and mandatory use of water conservation measures will increase until significant precipitation occurs to replenish water supplies.
Stream flows were at below normal levels across most the state during July, and are continuing to decline. Ground water levels were primarily in the normal range in Massachusetts during July, but Cape Cod and the Islands, and most of southeast region are experiencing below normal water table levels. The ground water levels continue to decline statewide and areas of below normal ground water levels are expected to expand as a result of the below-normal rainfall.
A drought advisory was initially issued for the entire state in December 2001 following significantly below normal levels of precipitation last fall. The entire state was raised to a drought watch in early March. In early June, because of the above normal precipitation in May and early June, the state was reduced to a drought advisory level. In July, the Drought Advisory was continued for the entire state. . The Drought Watch level now in place for the Southeast and Cape Cod and Islands indicates a level of dry conditions that warrant intensified monitoring by state, federal and local agencies. 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 Department of Environmental Protection will work with communities and provide technical assistance to assure that water supply needs can be met.
The National Weather Service forecasts above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation to continue through the month of August. Weather conditions are not currently favorable for tropical storm development. Below normal precipitation is expected to continue through September and October. The Drought Management Task Force will continue to monitor conditions in the coming weeks to assess drought impacts. 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.
Fire danger is a significant concern for the southeast and Cape Cod and islands regions of Massachusetts. In addition to being drier than normal, the current heat wave is causing increased fire danger levels, particularly in the coastal regions of the state. Also, the availability of surface water sources to extinguish fires is decreasing. Public water supplies must be conserved for fire suppression and public safety. Forest fires have occurred and have been difficult to extinguish as a result of the prolonged drought conditions. Extreme caution should be exercised with fire associated with outdoor activities (such as campfires, barbecues, fireworks, and cigarette disposal).
To respond to this drought advisory, the Drought Management Task Force recommends that water conservation efforts continue to be made to sustain public water supplies and minimize environmental impacts of the dry conditions. Water conservation tips for public water suppliers and citizens can be downloaded at: www.state.ma.us/dem/programs/rainfall/drought.htm. Public water suppliers should implement drought response plans as necessary to respond to their system requirements, assure water supply availability and protect environmental resources. Homeowners and other water users are advised to follow any guidance and adhere to any restrictions put in place by their local water supplier. Homeowners and other facilities with private wells are advised to monitor local conditions accordingly. Municipalities are urged to implement water use restriction bylaws and ordinances to allow for system demand management if necessary during the summer months.
The Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force is composed of liaisons from Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, Department of Environmental Management, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Fish & Wildlife, Department of Food & Agriculture, 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.