September 6th, 2002 - Recent Rains Not Enough, Drought Continues
BOSTON, MA - The Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force, at its September 5th meeting at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Headquarters in Framingham, recommended that the drought designations in place during August continue. The southeast and Cape Cod/Islands regions of the state are being maintained at watch level. All other regions of Massachusetts remain at drought advisory level.
July and August precipitation in Massachusetts was, on average, 63 percent of normal. The Cape Cod and southeast regions have received only 39 percent and 54 percent of normal precipitation for the past two months, respectively. 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. Rainfall in the central, Connecticut River valley and western regions of the state was also below normal during July and August (72 percent of normal), although not as deficient as the coastal regions of the state. Although above-normal amounts of rain occurred in the first week of September in the coastal regions, the National Weather Service is forecasting drier than normal conditions for New England through December 2002 and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that drought conditions are going to continue in the region over this period.
Fire danger levels increased during the summer months, aggravated by record heat waves. Low soil moisture combined with dry wood is causing difficulties in extinguishing fires, which have the capability of burning several feet into the ground. Significant fires occurred in the southeast (Plymouth), northeast (Peabody), central (Devens) and west (Mount Washington) regions of the state during August. Extreme caution with outdoor fire should continue during the dry periods forecast for the fall months.
The peak summer water use period has passed, but public water supply concerns remain with respect to low reservoir levels and wells nearing minimum water levels throughout the state. The Quabbin Reservoir, operated by the Metropolitan District Commission, is 80.6 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. MWRA estimates that the Quabbin level will likely remain in below normal status for another 12 months under average and dry weather model simulations, but will not enter warning levels specified in its drought management plan. Additional public water suppliers have imposed water use restrictions in the past month. It is expected that the voluntary and mandatory use of water conservation measures will continue and possibly increase until significant precipitation occurs to replenish water supplies. The month of October typically begins the fall to winter recharge season in New England, although tropical storms that may migrate to southern New England can deliver significant rain during September.
Stream flows were at below normal levels across most the state during July and August, and are continuing to decline. Ground water levels fell to below normal in most of Massachusetts during August, as a result of the below-normal rainfall.
The drought conditions have been a long-term event, which began with below normal rainfall in the fall of 2001. A drought advisory was initially issued for the entire state in December 2001. The entire state was raised to a drought watch in early March. In early June, the state was reduced to a drought Advisory level, where it remained through July. The Drought Watch level in place for the Southeast and Cape Cod and Islands since mid-August indicates a level of dry conditions that warrants 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 Drought Management Task Force will continue to monitor conditions in the coming weeks to assess drought impacts. In the event that significantly below normal precipitation occurs in September, drought designations may be advanced in areas that are presently classified as Advisory.
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: http://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. Extreme care should be taken with outdoor fires.
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 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.
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.