What is a Drought?
A drought is generally defined as a period of below-average precipitation in a given region, resulting in prolonged shortages in water supply. A drought can last for months or years, and can have a substantial impact on the environment, ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region.
Drought conditions can lead to insufficient supplies of water for drinking, household usage, fire suppression, agriculture. Water sources, including reservoirs, groundwater, lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, can be greatly impacted, and can result in loss of water supply, crop damage, and significant effects on the environment.
Before and during a drought, taking steps to reduce water usage both inside and outside your home can help conserve water and minimize impacts to availability of water supplies. Efforts for conserving water should be made by both consumers of municipal water supplies, as well as private well owners.
The State’s Drought Management Task Force evaluates drought conditions and impacts, and provides recommendations to the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs on classifying drought levels for the various regions of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has six drought regions (West, Connecticut River, Central, Northeast, Southeast and Cape/Islands), and the following five drought level classifications:
- Normal (normal to slightly dry conditions)
- Advisory (abnormally dry conditions)
- Watch (excessively dry conditions)
- Warning (severely dry conditions)
- Emergency (emergency condition)
Before a Drought
Make water conservation practices a part of your daily life and help preserve this essential resource.
Indoor Water Conservation Tips Prior to a Drought
- Never pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it. For example, use it to water your indoor plants or garden.
- Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers. One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year.
- Check all plumbing for leaks and have any leaks repaired by a plumber.
- Retrofit all household faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
- Install an instant hot water heater on your sink.
- Insulate your water pipes to reduce heat loss and prevent them from breaking.
- Install a water-softening system only when the minerals in the water would damage your pipes. Turn the softener off while on vacation.
- Choose appliances that are more water and energy efficient.
- Install a low-volume toilet that uses less than half the water of older models. Note: In some areas, low-volume units are required by law.
- For toilets with larger water tanks, install a toilet displacement device to reduce the amount of water needed to flush.
- Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low-flow version.
- Reduce use of sink disposals, which require a lot of water to operate properly. Instead, start a compost pile as an alternate method of disposing of food waste or simply dispose of food in the garbage.
Outdoor Water Conservation Tips Prior to a Drought
- Check your well pump periodically. If the automatic pump turns on and off while water is not being used, you may have a leak.
- Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs, and trees, or small plants. Small plants require less water to become established. Group plants together based on similar water needs.
- Install irrigation devices that are the most water efficient for each use, such as micro and drip irrigation, and soaker hoses.
- Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil. Mulch also helps control weeds that compete with landscape plants for water.
- Leave grass clippings on lawn to shade and return nutrients to soil.
- Avoid purchasing recreational water toys that require a constant stream of water.
- Avoid installing ornamental water features (such as fountains) unless they use re-circulated water.
- Consider using rainwater collection systems to water plants and gardens.
- Contact your local water provider for additional guidance and information.
- Position sprinklers so water lands on the lawn and shrubs and not on paved areas.
- Repair sprinklers that spray a fine mist. Most misting issues result from a pressure problem, properly regulating pressure in an irrigation system will prevent misting.
- Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly.
- Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture.
- Plant drought-resistant lawn seed. Reduce or eliminate lawn areas that are not used frequently.
- Avoid over-fertilizing your lawn. Applying fertilizer increases the need for water.
- Choose a water-efficient irrigation system such as drip irrigation for your trees, shrubs, and flowers.
- Turn irrigation down in fall and off in winter. Water manually in winter only if needed.
- Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants to reduce evaporation and keep the soil cool. Organic mulch also improves the soil and prevents weeds.
- Invest in a weather-based irrigation controller—or a smart controller. These devices will automatically adjust the watering time and frequency based on soil moisture, rain, wind, and evaporation and transpiration rates. Check with your local water agency to see if there is a rebate available for the purchase of a smart controller.
- Install a water-saving pool filter. A single back flushing with a traditional filter uses 180 to 250 gallons of water.
- Cover pools and spas to reduce evaporation of water.
During a Drought
Follow all state and local restrictions on water use, even if you have a private well (groundwater levels are affected by private well use). Contact your local water supplier or check MassDEP’s Municipal Water Use Restrictions page for current status.
Indoor Water Conservation Tips While in a Drought
- Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects, and other similar waste in the trash rather than the toilet.
- Avoid taking baths. Take short showers; turn on water only to get wet and lather and then again to rinse off.
- Avoid letting the water run while brushing your teeth, washing your face or shaving.
- Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water for watering plants.
- Operate automatic dishwashers only when they are fully loaded. Use the "light wash" feature, if available, to use less water.
- Hand wash dishes by filling two containers—one with soapy water and the other with rinse water containing a small amount of chlorine bleach.
- Clean vegetables in a pan filled with water rather than running water from the tap.
- Store drinking water in the refrigerator. Do not let the tap run while you are waiting for water to cool.
- Avoid wasting water waiting for it to get hot. Capture it for other uses such as plant watering or heat it on the stove or in a microwave.
- Avoid rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher; just remove large particles of food. (Most dishwashers can clean soiled dishes very well, so dishes do not have to be rinsed before washing).
- Avoid using running water to thaw meat or other frozen foods. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on your microwave oven.
- Operate automatic clothes washers only when they are fully loaded or set the appropriate water level for the size of your load.
Outdoor Water Conservation Tips While in a Drought
- Do not wash your car by handheld hose.
- If you use a commercial car wash, consider using a car wash that recycles water.
- Follow all outdoor watering restrictions.
- If permitted to conduct outdoor watering, avoid over watering your lawn and water only when needed. Water only in the early in the morning or later in the evening, when temperatures are cooler and water is less likely to evaporate.
- A heavy rain eliminates the need for watering for up to two weeks. Most of the year, lawns only need one inch of water per week.
- Check the soil moisture levels with a soil probe, spade or large screwdriver. You don't need to water if the soil is still moist. If your grass springs back when you step on it, it doesn't need water yet.
- Check your sprinkler system frequently and adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk, driveway or street.
- Water in several short sessions rather than one long one, in order for your lawn to better absorb moisture and avoid runoff.
- Use a broom or blower instead of a hose to clean leaves and other debris from your driveway or sidewalk.
- Avoid leaving sprinklers or hoses unattended. A garden hose can pour out 600 gallons or more in only a few hours.
- In extreme drought, allow lawns to go unwatered in favor of preserving trees and large shrubs.