Press Release

Press Release Risk of Wildland Fires Increases as Drought Persists

Conditions Worsen in Cape Cod, Islands, and Western Regions
For immediate release:
8/24/2022
  • Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs

Media Contact for Risk of Wildland Fires Increases as Drought Persists

Troy Wall, Communications Director

Massachusetts Drought Status 8.24.22

BOSTONWith the risk of wildland fires increasing due to below average precipitation across the state, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Beth Card today declared that the Cape Cod Region will join the Connecticut River Valley, Southeast, Northeast, and Central Regions as a Level 3-Critical Drought. Additionally, the Islands and Western Regions will also elevate to a Level 2-Significant Drought. As outlined in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan, a Level-3 Critical Drought and a Level 2-Significant Drought calls for the convening of an inter-agency Mission Group, which has already began to meet, to more closely coordinate on drought assessments, impacts, and response within the government. These efforts are in addition to Level 1-Mild Drought actions, which recommends detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, and technical outreach and assistance to the affected municipalities.

“Massachusetts continues to experience drought conditions in all regions of the state, which is not only depleting public water supplies, but is also elevating the risk of wildland fires,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card. “It is critical that we all practice water conservation methods and adhere to local requirements to decrease the stress on our water systems and ensure essential needs, such as drinking water, habitats and fire suppression, are being met.”

“The impact of the current drought conditions are being felt throughout the commonwealth, from damaging wildfires to dry riverbeds and wells,” said MEMA Acting Director Dawn Brantley. “The recent rains help but won’t end the drought so it is more important than ever to prevent wildfires and for residents to conserve water in our day-to-day activities.”

From August 1, 2022, to August 22, 2022, rainfall ranged mostly between 0.5 inch to 1 inch across the state, with a few localized higher and lower totals. Precipitation numbers are trending below average for the month of August. The Cape Cod, Islands, and Western Regions of the state were most impacted by the lack of precipitation. Additionally, since the onset of the drought, regions are experiencing between a four and ten inch deficit in precipitation. Streamflow has also been the most affected index with extreme low flows all across the state, where dry streambeds, increased ponding, higher temperatures in rivers, and increased nutrients and algal blooms are occurring. Furthermore, groundwater levels are declining in each region of the state.

Caution is also advised as fire activity has increased across the state as drought conditions have set in, and wildfires in remote areas with delayed response are now burning deep into the organic soil layers. Drought induced fire behavior can result in suppression challenges for fire resources and result in extended incidents. 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. During the temporary ban, which is in effect until further notice, small portable propane grills are still allowed at campgrounds and recreation areas where grilling is permitted.

Currently, there are over 12 wildfire incidents across the state that are active and require daily mop up and monitoring. This year’s fire season has been extended due to dry conditions. Since the start of the fire season, there have been over 840 wildfires, burning approximately 1,432 acres of land. 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.

The agricultural sector also continues to experience impacts resulting from the ongoing drought, which includes some depletion of water sources and production acreage, irrigating crops on a more consistent basis due to current precipitation deficits, high temperatures, low soil moisture, and significant increase in operating costs due to increased labor, maintenance of equipment, and increased irrigation. Consumers are encouraged to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and other products at local farm stands and retail stores throughout the Commonwealth.

On August 15, 2022, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack announced the designation of 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. The nine primary counties are: Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Worcester. The three contiguous counties are: Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire. For more information, please visit the USDA’s Disaster Assistance Programs’ webpage.

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, Level 2 – Significant Drought and Level 1 – Mild 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.

For Regions in Level 1 – Mild Drought

Residents and Businesses:

  • Toilets, faucets and showers are more than 60% of indoor use.  Make sure yours are WaterSense efficient.
  • Limit outdoor watering to one day a week (only from 5:00 pm – 9:00 am), or less frequently if required by your water supplier

Immediate Steps for Communities:

  • Adopt and implement the state’s nonessential outdoor water use restrictions for 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.

Practicing water conservation now will greatly help reduce water use to ensure essential needs, such as drinking water and fire protection, are being met, habitats have enough water to support their natural functions, and to sustain the Commonwealth’s water supplies in the long-term. 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.

“The need for conservation of water has never been greater,” said Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “Citizens are again encouraged to conserve water and follow the conservation measures established by their local water suppliers.”

The Drought Management Task Force will meet again on Wednesday, September 7, 2022, at 1:00PM. 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.

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Media Contact for Risk of Wildland Fires Increases as Drought Persists

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 8.24.22 (EEA)
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