The Drought Bill continues to make its way through the legislature and was recently referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. In order to push through this next step, Ways and Means needs to hear that this bill is a priority for our state representatives.

Please contact your state representatives and ask them to share their support for H.861, an Act relative to maintaining adequate water supplies through effective drought management with Committee Chair Michlewitz. Find your State Representative here

Thank you to Rep. Meschino (Hull, Cohasset, Hingham) for sponsoring this important bill, and to Rep Kearney (Scituate, Marshfield, Norwell) who has signed on as a co-sponsor along with a number of other legislators

Drought dry stream bed with tree stumps.

Under the current regulations, when a drought is declared, each city or town decides its own water conservation measures which leads to a confusing patchwork of policies that is not effective in providing water savings and relief to our rivers and streams. If we want any chance of having a real impact on streamflow levels during times of drought, there needs to be a consistent approach across the state. Water is a shared resource and we need to have a shared approach to managing it. 

The North and South Rivers watershed is relatively progressive in its approach to water conservation but it is not consistent. For example, in August 2022 when we were in a Level 3 Critical drought, 6 of the water systems in our watershed would have matched the state’s regulations and 2 were more restrictive, but the other 9 required less of their residents. 

Passing the Drought Bill will create a level playing field for all towns, not just those on the South Shore. It will act as a backstop, or absolute minimum, for those towns that have not acted in the past. As you can see from the map below, towns across the state had various reactions to the August 2022 drought. In very few towns, the restrictions actually matched what was currently proposed by the State.

Map 1. Water Use Restrictions vs Drought Status

Outdoor water restrictions work. In 2016, Scituate’s water use decreased by 6% during the first month of the Level 1 seasonal outdoor water ban. As drought conditions worsened and the town increased enforcement and publicity, water demand was reduced by 25%.

By the time a drought is declared, we have already missed the chance to stop its effects as the drought is already underway. But the absolute least we can ask of the Towns in our Commonwealth is to reduce outdoor water use to keep the impacts of the drought from getting any worse. This consistent messaging is helpful and increases awareness about issues that impact our water resources.

We often think of regulations in terms of their impacts on people. In this case, one might ask if it’s fair to ask people to stop watering their lawns? But the impacts can be much greater on the animals and plants that rely on our rivers and streams for habitat. For our anadromous fish, such as river herring and Atlantic shad, the lucky few who make it upstream to their spawning habitat in the spring likely won’t have enough streamflow to make it back to the ocean in the fall. 

This is just one of many photos and videos that show how our changing climate and water withdrawals impact streamflows. This problem is not unique to the South Shore, North Shore or anywhere in between. Drought does not impact us town by town or even watershed by watershed. We all have a responsibility to act now before the next drought season is upon us.

For more information, check out MassRivers Alliance Fact Sheet and Trillium Studio’s When In Drought, Massachusetts video.