North & South Rivers Watershed Association

State of the Drought

More than 90 people came to the first WaterWatch Lecture on Wednesday, January 11th to hear about the state of the drought in Massachusetts. Ellen Mecray, Eastern Region Climate Services Director of NOAA’s Eastern Region Climate Center reported that with climate extremes on the rise and increased water withdrawals the drought will continue in the foreseeable future. According to numbers released by NOAA on January 5, the entirety of the South Shore is still considered to be in a severe drought condition. Despite recent rains and snowfall, 59% of the state is still in a severe drought and 8.6% is still in an extreme drought.  As a result, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Matthew Beaton declared a Drought Warning for Southeast Massachusetts on January 6, 2017, which is unchanged from the month of December.

The normal precipitation for the July-December period is 21.93”. The same time period in 2016 reported 15.38” of precipitation, which is only 70% of normal. Recent snowfalls although measurable, providing between 12-18”, were low in moisture content.  These factors, as well as the fact that we are building on the drought numbers from previous years, means that we are further down the scale than ever. This has a lasting impact on water supplies, stream flow, and wildlife. Think of it this way – our water supply is like the battery on your cell phone. Rainfall recharges the level of the groundwater, especially once the leaves fall off the trees and stop drawing water from the ground. Without sufficient recharging there won’t be enough water to keep our streams flowing normally while also supplying our towns at the same time. Though the recent precipitation has helped put a dent in the drought, the drought’s status did not change due to the long-term harm it has already inflicted on the environment.

According to Beaton, “With below average rainfall over the course of the previous month, drought conditions have changed very little as the Commonwealth heads into the start of 2017. We all must continue to administer best indoor water conservation practices to ensure we avoid water sources from becoming stressed and are allowed to rebound faster.” Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Director Kurt Schwartz  has said, “While recent precipitation has helped to reduce the severity of the drought in parts of the state, drought conditions continue and the public is urged to take steps to reduce indoor water usage. Recovery from this long-term drought will require both continued conservation measures and above-normal levels of precipitation for the foreseeable future.”

Aquarion Water Company, the water provider for Hingham and Hull, recently release their numbers on their towns’ water supply. According to Stephen Olson, Director of Operations, “The precipitation recorded at the water treatment plant in Hingham during the month of December 2016 was 3.09 inches, which is 1.51 inches below average for the month of December. For calendar year 2016, we ended up being a total of 9.27 inches below average for the year. Groundwater and surface water levels remain seasonally low. As of the last day of December 2016, Accord Pond was only at 51.25% capacity, which is approximately 30% below average for this time of year”.

Sara Grady, North and South Rivers Watershed Ecologist and South Shore Regional Coordinator for the MassBays Program reported, “Streamflows on January 3rd at the Indian Head River gauge were just above the 10th percentile for flows recorded on that date during the 50 years of record at that site. This means that flows have been higher in approximately 45 years of the record, and lower in only 5 years of the record.

Weymouth Department of Public Works operator Ed Shine said, “Rainfall and melting snow from a Jan. 7 storm added an additional 1.5 feet of water to Great Pond, but the lake remains seven-feet below the optimal sea level of 166-feet. Weymouth’s water source also includes Whitman’s Pond as a backup supply and two wells on Winter Street. “I have been here 16 years and not seen anything like this,” Shine said.

The Scituate reservoir, according to Al Bangert, Special Projects Manager for the town of Scituate, “is now full, however, given the current drought we are urging conservation measures still be implemented.”  In light of all the recent information we are asking the public to be mindful of the amount of water they are using, and to reduce indoor water use and address leaks as soon as possible. The benefits are twofold – fixing leaky faucets, toilets and showerheads is a great way to conserve water and save money. These steps will help reduce water use to ensure that we have enough water for essential needs such as drinking water and fire protection. This will also help our rivers, streams and groundwater recover enough water to stretch our water supplies into the spring.

For more water saving information, please visit our website WaterSmartSouth Shore.org

You can find the complete schedule of the WaterWatch Lecture Series on our NSRWA website.

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