Dry conditions show no signs of letting up in New England, with 2016 being the first year that Massachusetts has had an extreme drought declared by the US Drought Monitor since 1999.
Although recent rainfall has slightly improved the situation, the entirety of Massachusetts is facing abnormally dry conditions, with 40% of the state classified as being in a state of “extreme drought.”
This is in stark contrast to this time last year, where only 23% of the state faced a “moderate drought” and no portion was classified as worse.
Bill Simpson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, told the Globe in Late October that while the scattered days of rain have helped, it is not enough.
“We need more steady rain,” Simpson said. “When it’s a prolonged, steady rain, that’s what’s best because it percolates into the soil and into the necessary aquifers and water sources.”
The drought has had a noticeable impact on daily life, with many counties implementing water bans in an attempt to lessen the strain on increasingly empty reservoirs. In September, communities including Worcester and Ashland acquired permission to draw water from the main reservoir of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority at a cost of $1.7 million per month.
“A lot of systems are really feeling the stress,” says Frederick Laskey, executive director of the MWRA, to Globe reporters in September. “We have a lot of water and we’re in a position to not only weather the drought, but also to help other systems that don’t have the storage we have.”
The main reservoir of the MWRA is the Quabbin, which contains a staggering 412 billion tons of water and can weather several years of drought conditions.
Farms have been hit particularly hard by the water shortage, with farmers facing crop failure and rising costs for constant irrigation.
“Some crops are not even worth harvesting,” said Fran Matheson, of Littleton’s Spring Brook Farm. “You just have to till it and turn it under because they’re a disaster and a complete loss.”
Massachusetts does have a Drought Management Plan in place, developed in 2013 by former Governor Deval Patrick and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The plan stresses statewide coordination in order to monitor and respond to droughts, and also contains tips on preparedness for water suppliers.
The state has also put in place the Drought Emergency Loan Fund, meant to provide loans to farms and other businesses impacted by the drought.
In the meantime, outside water use is severely restricted in many parts of Massachusetts, including Plymouth County.
Laskey hopes that potentially heavy snowfall in the winter will provide aid, but warns that it is best not to rely on it.
“We don’t know if this drought is going to end in a week or three years from now,” he said. “So you should prepare for the worst.”