Amid continuing hot temperatures and little precipitation, the entirety of Massachusetts is experiencing drought conditions, with its northeast and central regions now under a level 3-critical drought designation.
Hydrological conditions have only worsened in the state since the start of July 2022, according to a press release submitted by Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, its Drought Management Task Force and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Massachusetts’ southeast and Connecticut River Valley regions remain at level 2-significant drought, and the Cape Cod region joins the Islands and western regions at level 1-mild drought, as announced by EEA Secretary Beth Card on July 21.
“As the state endures high temperatures and little precipitation, now more than ever it is critical that we all practice water conservation methods across the Commonwealth,” Card says. “Minimizing water use now, especially in areas like the Millers and Nashua River watersheds, will allow local water supply systems and natural habitats to rebound more quickly and will also ensure water resources are available for essential needs, such as drinking water and fire protection.”
Per the EEA’s Drought Management Plan, level 3 and level 2 designations call for the convening of an interagency mission group, the Drought Management Task Force, which has already been convened, to more closely coordinate on drought assessments, impacts and response within the government. The task force will meet again at 1 p.m. Aug. 8.
A level 1 designation recommends detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, and technical outreach and assistance to the affected municipalities.
For level 3 communities, immediate steps include an enforced ban on all nonessential outdoor water use; communication of drought status and water conservation tips to local residents and businesses; discouragement or prohibition of new sod, seedling or landscaping installation; and an establishment or enhancement of water-use reduction targets for all water users. Nonessential outdoor water use is defined as watering not required for health or safety reasons, by regulation, for the production of food and fiber, for the maintenance of livestock or to meet the core functions of a business.
For level 2 communities, nonessential outdoor watering is limited to hand-held hoses or watering cans between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. For level 1 communities, nonessential outdoor watering is limited to one day per week only between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m.
Local Massachusetts governments under areas of drought will also be required to establish a year-round water conservation program that includes public education and communication, implement or establish drought surcharges or seasonal water rates, be prepared to activate emergency interconnections for water supply, and develop or refine its local drought management plan using guidance outlined in the state drought management plan.
To improve water efficiency, the EEA urges for irrigation systems to feature proper design, installation and auditing by professionals. Some municipalities have chosen not to allow the installation of new irrigation systems. Local governments are also encouraged to provide incentives or rebates for water efficiency via effective water rates, installation of less water-intensive vegetation, installation of efficient irrigation technologies and employment of water audits.
“Between the lack of precipitation and the extreme heat, we are seeing conditions degrade quickly particularly in certain areas of the state,” says Martin Suuberg, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. “We strongly encourage all water users, including private well owners, to take immediate steps to reduce their demands and to follow recommendations and requirements outlined by your local public water supplier.”
McKenna Corson is the digital content editor for Irrigation & Lighting and can be reached here.