(The Center Square) – Two tourism heavy regions of Massachusetts have been placed under drought warnings, and officials feel the situation may grow worse.
The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in May declared a Level 1 – Mild Drought in two of the state’s seven drought regions. The Southeast and Island Regions, according to a news release.
Anne Carroll, director of the Office of Water Resources at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, said the trajectory is worsening.
“Yes, we are in a drought in several regions, and yes, we do anticipate that that will be expanded – and we may even go from a Level 1 Mild Drought to a Level 2 in some areas,” she told The Center Square.
Carroll’s team serves as technical staff to the state’s Drought Management Task Force, the body that convenes to evaluate data and submit recommendations to declare a drought.
“We’ve been tracking the data and conditions have deteriorated,” she said. “So, the task force is meeting again next Thursday.
“I do anticipate that they will expand that declaration. Because we haven’t been getting much rain and we have a few unusually hot days – so it’s a combination of you don’t get the rain, but then on top of that you get basically a lot of evaporation and heat you can accelerate that drying condition.”
When the DMTF met last, the North East Region was heading in the wrong direction, but not bad enough to be included in the declaration. Carroll expects it to be included this time around.
To track conditions, Carroll’s team looks at a series of indicators including groundwater levels, stream flow levels, the amount of rain received, water bodies and reservoir levels, and a measure of evapo-transfer as well as fire danger levels.
DMTF last convened in May because conditions were rapidly drying, Carroll said, calling it a “flash drought” situation.
“Droughts usually have a slow onset and we’re usually slow to get out of them because it takes a while to build up that deficit of water in the environment,” she said. “But what we’ve been noticing is the onset has become faster than what we would consider ‘normal’ based on our period of record and what we’ve experienced over the last couple hundred years.”
How long the current drought will last is the question which no one can answer, Carroll said.
The state is asking residents to reduce irrigation to no more than once a week while the state remains at Level 1. If Level 2 is declared, residents will be strongly encouraged to only implement hand-held watering.
A distinction is made between essential and nonessential irrigation. While lawns are nonessential, agricultural irrigation is considered essential.
In 2016, Massachusetts saw its second-worst recorded drought by the end of which the agricultural sector saw significant crop damage.
At Level 1 or 2, however, farmers are not affected by any irrigation restrictions, according to Carroll.