Press Release

Press Release Critical Drought Conditions Declared in Southeast Region of Commonwealth

Public Asked to Remain Diligent to Prevent Wildland Fires
For immediate release:
10/09/2020
  • Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
  • Department of Conservation & Recreation
  • Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency
  • Department of Fire Services
  • Drought Management Task Force

Media Contact for Critical Drought Conditions Declared in Southeast Region of Commonwealth

Craig Gilvarg, Press Secretary

Massachusetts Drought Map September

Boston — Due to five months of below normal rainfall, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Kathleen Theoharides today declared a Level 3 – Critical Drought in the Southeast Region of the Commonwealth. The other six regions across the state — the Western, Connecticut River Valley, Central, Northeast, Cape Cod, and Islands regions— remain at a Level 2 – Significant Drought, unchanged from last month’s declaration. Responding to increasingly severe drought conditions in some of the Commonwealth’s river basins, Secretary Theoharides also declared a Level 3 – Critical Drought in the Charles River and Millers River watersheds.

 

During Fire Prevention Week, and with continued drought-like conditions throughout the Commonwealth, state officials also urge residents to remain diligent in their efforts to prevent a wildland fire and to take common sense safety measures when using outdoor fire pits, grills, and other open flames.

 

“As the Commonwealth continues to experience below normal levels of rainfall as we move into the harvest season, conditions remain very dry with the Southeast region of the Commonwealth and the Charles and Millers River basins all experiencing more severe impacts to streamflow, groundwater and fire risk,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “We will continue to coordinate through all levels of government to address these drought conditions, and we urge residents in the Southeast region and across the Commonwealth to aggressively conserve water and take necessary precautions to avoid wildfires.”

 

“As significant drought conditions have worsened to critical levels in some parts of the state, residents and businesses are asked to continue conserving water in order to reduce the demand on water supplies,” said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Director Samantha Phillips. “These very dry conditions cause an increased threat of brush and wildland fires and we urge residents to exercise caution when using charcoal grills, matches, and other open flames during outdoor activities and to call 911 immediately if there is a fire to prevent the fire from spreading.”

 

At a Level 3 – Critical Drought, as outlined in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan,  many sectors, community functions, and environmental resources are facing critical strain. At this stage, there is an increased reliance on mandatory conservation measures to augment voluntary measures. Coordination efforts are expanded to include neighboring states, and preparations begin for emergency conditions. At a Level 2 – Significant Drought, conditions are becoming significantly dry and warrant detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, emphasis on water conservation, more stringent watering restrictions, and technical outreach and assistance for the affected municipalities.

 

The declaration was informed by recommendations and discussions from the October 7th meeting of the Drought Management Task Force (DMTF), composed of state and federal officials and other entities, and will remain in effect until water levels return to normal in the affected regions. The state continues to intensely monitor and assess the drought situation, and any associated environmental, municipal and agricultural impacts.

 

In the Millers and Charles River basins, drought indices show a condition worse than that in the rest of their respective regions, leading to a declaration of a Level 3 – Critical Drought in the watersheds. A River Basin is the geographical area that contributes and drains into a river system, including its tributaries. Factors such as location, topography, and land use can cause river basins to react differently to drought conditions. For a list of communities in each region, click here.

 

Rainfall totals for September were within an inch of normal along the Berkshires and Western Hampden County, but were below normal across the remainder of the state. Across most of the Connecticut Valley, Central and Northeast regions into the Boston area, rainfall was 1 to 3 inches below normal. In the Southeast and Cape and Islands regions, rainfall was 2 to over 3 inches below normal. Meanwhile, temperatures remained above normal, as September temperatures averaged near normal to 3 degrees above normal across much of Massachusetts.

 

Extended drought conditions have rendered grasses, shrubs and forest fuels very dry across most of the state, and extremely dry in areas of the Southeast, resulting in increased wildfire risk and added challenges for firefighting agencies. Leaf and pine needle drop is starting to add to the surface fuel loads, which will challenge the containment of ongoing fires. These conditions exhaust local resources and increase risk to firefighter safety.  Fire officials remind the public to be very aware of this situation, and to be careful with all open burning and disposal of combustible materials. 

 

The vast majority of wildland fires that occur within Massachusetts, approximately 98%, are human caused and preventable. Warm and dry weather conditions, along with an increase in combustible fuels, such as leaf litter and dead wood debris, are ideal for wildland fires to ignite and spread rapidly. So far this year, 1,078 wildland fires have occurred throughout the state with approximately 729 burned acres. In comparison, 2019 had 281 wildland fires with 248 burned acres and 2018 had 1,021 wildland fires with 484 burned acres.

 

“There have been a number of wildland fires caused by illegal fireworks. We remind people that having, using, buying or transporting fireworks is illegal in Massachusetts,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “Even a small firework could start at large brush fire especially in these extremely dry conditions.”

 

“Getting outside and enjoying nature is important to both mental wellbeing and physical health; however, we ask that everyone that is grilling or using a campfire to be responsible and practice fire safe measures,” said DCR Commissioner Jim Montgomery. “By working together by taking additional precautions, we can prevent wildland fires from jeopardizing the state’s natural resources and threatening the safety of friends and family.”

 

In order to prevent wildfires, residents are asked to:

  • Exercise caution when using charcoal grills, matches, and other open flames during outdoor activities.
  • Before setting up a campfire or any other outdoor burning, be sure it is permitted and at least 25 feet away from any structure and anything that can burn.
  • Clear away dry leaves and sticks, overhanging low branches and shrubs.
  • Avoid burning on windy, dry days.
  • Never use gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquids.
  • Always have a hose, bucket of water, or shovel and dirt or sand nearby to put out the fire, and make sure to put it completely out before leaving the site.
  • If there is a fire, call 911 immediately.

For Regions in Level 3 – Critical Drought

Residents and Businesses:

  • Minimize overall water use.
  • Stop all outdoor watering.

 

Immediate Steps for Communities:

  • Adopt and implement the state’s nonessential outdoor water use restrictions for drought; Level 3 restriction calls for a ban on all nonessential outdoor water use.
  • Strongly discourage or prohibit installation of new sod, seeding, and/or landscaping; washing of hard surfaces (sidewalks, patios, driveways, siding); personal vehicle or boat washing; operation of non-recirculating fountains; filling of swimming pools, hot tubs, and backyard informal rinks.
  • Implement drought surcharge or seasonal water rates.
  • Establish water-use reduction targets for all water users and identify top water users and conduct targeted outreach to help curb their use.

 

Short- and Medium-Term Steps for Communities:

  • Establish a year-round water conservation program that includes public education and communication.
  • Provide timely information to local residents and businesses.
  • Prepare to activate emergency inter-connections for water supply.
  • Develop a local drought management plan using guidance outlined in the state Drought Management Plan.

 

For Regions in Level 2 – Significant Drought

 

Residents and Businesses:

  • Minimize overall water use;
  • Limit outdoor watering to hand-held hoses or watering cans, to be used only after 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m. one day a week.
  • Follow local water use restrictions.


Immediate Steps for Communities:

  • Adopt and implement the state’s nonessential outdoor water use restrictions for drought; Level 2 restriction calls for limiting outdoor watering to hand-held hoses or watering cans, to be used only after 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m. If local restrictions are more stringent, continue to keep them in place during the course of the drought.
  • Limit or prohibit installation of new sod, seeding, and/or landscaping; watering during or within 48 hours after measurable rainfall; washing of hard surfaces (sidewalks, patios, driveways, siding); personal vehicle or boat washing; operation of non-recirculating fountains; filling of swimming pools, hot tubs, and backyard informal rinks.
  • Implement drought surcharge or seasonal water rates.
  • Establish water-use reduction targets for all water users and identify top water users and conduct targeted outreach to help curb their use.
     

Short- and Medium-Term Steps for Communities:

  • Establish a year-round water conservation program that includes public education and communication;
  • Provide timely information to local residents and businesses;
  • Check emergency inter-connections for water supply; and
  • Develop a local drought management plan using guidance outlined in the state Drought Management Plan.

 

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) continues to provide technical assistance to communities on managing systems, including assistance on use of emergency connections and water supplies, as well as assisting towns on how to request a declaration of drought emergency.

 

“With shorter days and cooler temperatures, irrigation is even less appropriate this time of year under drought conditions, so we encourage towns, water suppliers, and consumers to cease irrigation for the remainder of the fall season unless specific circumstances require otherwise,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “This is especially appropriate in those areas that identify as Level 3-Critical Drought to further reduce stress on drinking water resources and other water-dependent habitats.”

 

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) water supply system is not currently experiencing drought conditions, as defined within its individual plan.

 

The declaration of a Level 2 – Significant Drought and Level 3 – Critical Drought requires the Drought Management Task Force to continue to meet on a regular basis to more closely assess conditions across the state, accelerate outreach efforts on water conservation, coordinate dissemination of information to the public, and help state, federal and local agencies prepare any responses that may be needed in the future. The next meeting of the Drought Management Task Force is scheduled for Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 1:00 pm and will be held virtually via Zoom.

 

Last year, EEA completed a two-year process and updated the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan to better assess drought conditions across the state and maximize the state’s ability to prepare for and respond to a drought. The Plan also provides guidance to communities on drought preparedness and outlines response actions that can be taken at the local level.

 

For further information on water conservation and what residents and communities can do, visit the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ drought page.

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Media Contact for Critical Drought Conditions Declared in Southeast Region of Commonwealth

Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs 

EEA seeks to protect, preserve, and enhance the Commonwealth’s environmental resources while ensuring a clean energy future for the state’s residents. Through the stewardship of open space, protection of environmental resources, and enhancement of clean energy, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs works tirelessly to make Massachusetts a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family.

Department of Conservation & Recreation 

DCR manages state parks and oversees more than 450,000 acres throughout Massachusetts. It protects, promotes, and enhances the state’s natural, cultural, and recreational resources.

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency 

Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency ensures the state is prepared to withstand, respond to and recover from all types of emergencies and disasters.

Department of Fire Services 

The Department of Fire Services helps keep communities safe. We provide firefighter training, public education, fire prevention, code enforcement, licensing, fire investigation, hazardous material response, and emergency response.

Drought Management Task Force 

The Drought Management Task Force (DMTF) chaired by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, consists of officials from state and federal agencies and professional organizations with responsibility for areas likely to be affected by drought conditions. It also includes representatives of agencies that provide data used to assess the severity of drought conditions or that have the ability to respond to drought conditions, and public health and safety professionals.
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