Press Release

Press Release Despite Recent Rain, Drought Continues in Massachusetts

Practicing Water Conservation Significantly Benefits Water Supply Systems
For immediate release:
9/08/2022
  • Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs

Media Contact for Despite Recent Rain, Drought Continues in Massachusetts

Troy Wall, Communications Director

Massachusetts Drought Status (9.8.22)

BOSTONFollowing recommendations made by the Massachusetts Drought Management Task Force, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Beth Card today declared that except for the Southeast Region that saw improvement at the regional scale, all other regions within the Commonwealth will remain at their current drought levels. This includes the Cape Cod, Connecticut River Valley, Northeast, and Central Regions remaining at a Level 3-Critical Drought, and the Islands and Western Regions remaining at a Level 2-Significant Drought. The Southeast Region has been upgraded to Level 2 – Significant Drought from a Level 3-Critical Drought. When a Level-3 Critical Drought and a Level 2-Significant Drought have been declared, the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan calls for the convening of an interagency mission group, which is already meeting, to more closely coordinate on drought assessments, impacts, and responses within state government. These efforts are in addition to Level 1-Mild Drought actions, such as detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, and technical outreach and assistance to impacted municipalities.

“While recent precipitation across the state has brought some improvements to streamflow and local water supplies, we still have a ways to go. The Commonwealth continues to experience widespread drought in every region of the state,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card. “To avoid overstressing water systems, we all must adhere to local water use requirements and practice water conservation methods in an effort to ensure essential needs, including drinking water, fire suppression, and habitats, continue to be met.”

“While a good deal of helpful rain has fallen over the past few days in many areas of the Commonwealth, it is important to remember that the drought’s impacts have taken months to develop and will take more than a few days of rain to resolve,” said MEMA Acting Director Dawn Brantley. “Hopefully, we will continue to get additional rain, but until then, we need to continue to be mindful about our day-to-day water use and remain vigilant in preventing brush and wildfires in our communities.”

Rainfall received during the later part of the month of August provided a much needed relief throughout the Commonwealth, particularly within the Southeast Region of the state where improvements were significantly made; however, the northern part of the region was still lagging. In addition, other northern parts of the Commonwealth, as well as Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket saw less than 2.5 inches of rainfall during the month of August.

Significantly, the recent rains have helped in the near term to lower fire danger and decrease the potential for newly ignited wildland fires, which have seen an increase in 2022. To date, approximately 905 wildland fires have been reported, burning an estimated 1,485 acres. 137 fires were recorded this August alone during some of the highest drought indices since 2016. In comparison, there were only 24 wildland fires reported in August 2021.

As a result of fire conditions, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has implemented a temporary ban on all open flame and charcoal fires within state park properties, which remains in effect until further notice. During the temporary ban small portable propane grills are still allowed at campgrounds and recreation areas where grilling is permitted. It is critical that everyone remains aware of how the drought has increased the risk of wildland fires in the state, and the public is asked to exercise extreme caution when using grills and open flames to ensure fires are properly and completely extinguished.

Ongoing drought conditions also continue to impact Massachusetts’ agricultural sector. These impacts vary across the state and include some depletion of water sources and production acreage, an increase in irrigation of crops, lower than normal yields, undersized fruits or vegetables, and higher operating costs. Nevertheless, with plenty of produce to sell, consumers are encouraged to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and other products at local farm stands and retail stores throughout the Commonwealth.

To assist farms, on August 15, 2022, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated nine Massachusetts counties as primary natural disaster areas and three counties as contiguous disaster areas due to the 2022 drought. A USDA Secretarial disaster designation makes farm operators in the primary and contiguous counties eligible to be considered for assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), such as FSA emergency loans, provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans. For more information, please visit the USDA’s Disaster Assistance Programs’ webpage. Additionally, following this designation, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced on August 30, 2022, that federal Economic injury Disaster Loans are now available in the designated and contiguous counties. Small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and most private nonprofit organizations with economic losses due to drought would be eligible for the loans.

It is important to note that the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) water supply system is not experiencing drought conditions, as defined within its individual plan. Private wells, local streams, wetlands, vernal pools, and other water-dependent habitats located within MWRA-serviced areas are being impacted by drought conditions while water quality in ponds can deteriorate due to lowering of levels and stagnation.

Below are recommendations for communities and individuals living and working within a Level 3 – Critical Drought, and Level 2 – Significant Drought region, including those utilizing a private well. Residents and businesses are also asked to check with their local water system in case more stringent watering restrictions are in place.

For Regions in Level 3 – Critical Drought

Residents and Businesses:

  • Stop all non-essential outdoor watering.
  • Minimize overall water use.

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.
  • Provide timely information on the drought and on water conservation tips to local residents and businesses.
  • Enforce water use restrictions with increasingly stringent penalties.
  • 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; filling of swimming pools.
  • Establish or enhance 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.
  • Implement or establish drought surcharge or seasonal water rates.
  • Prepare to activate emergency inter-connections for water supply.
  • Develop or refine your 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.
  • Follow local water use restrictions, if more stringent.

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; filling of swimming pools.
  • 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.
  • Implement or establish drought surcharge or seasonal water rates.
  • Check emergency inter-connections for water supply.
  • Develop or refine your local drought management plan using guidance outlined in the state Drought Management Plan.

Significantly, the practicing of water conservation methods greatly assists water supply systems by reducing water use, which will help ensure essential needs are being met. These needs include available resources for drinking water and fire protection, supporting the natural functions of habitats, and to better sustain the Commonwealth’s water supplies in the long-term. Importantly, state agencies will continue to monitor and assess current conditions and any associated environmental and agricultural impacts, coordinate any needed dissemination of information to the public, and help state, federal and local agencies prepare additional responses that may be needed in the future. Furthermore, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) will continue to provide technical assistance to communities on managing systems, including emergency connections and water supplies assistance.

“It takes time to recover from a drought. Understanding that fact and the variations in rainfall by location across the Commonwealth, water users should continue to follow the advice of their public water system and conserve as much water as possible,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg.

The Drought Management Task Force will meet again on Thursday, September 22, 2022, at 10:00AM. For further information on water conservation and what residents can do, please visit EEA’s drought page and water conservation page. To get the most up-to-date information on the drought indices, go to the state’s drought dashboard page. Additionally, the Commonwealth is surveying the public for any drought impacts that are currently being experienced. To participate, please visit the Massachusetts Water Impact Reporter webpage.

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Media Contact for Despite Recent Rain, Drought Continues in Massachusetts

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.
Image credits:  Massachusetts Drought Status (9.8.22) (EEA)
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