Amid Intensifying Drought, Mass. Official Says Residents Can Help By Limiting Water Usage

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The water level was low at the Cambridge Reservoir in Lincoln on July 26. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The water level was low at the Cambridge Reservoir in Lincoln on July 26. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

While there may be some rain in the weekend forecast, state officials remain very concerned about the drought that continues to intensify.

On Thursday, a special panel that monitors drought conditions around Massachusetts convened. It's considering upgrading warnings about the extremely dry conditions.

"Right now, what we're seeing is dry conditions across much of the state, in particular in the Connecticut, central and northeast regions," said Jonathan Yeo, of the state's Division of Water Supply Protection.

Yeo had little encouraging news, as he ticked through various indicators that the drought is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The audience was the various state and federal officials that will recommend to the secretary of environmental affairs the drought warnings for the state.

"Almost all the regions in Massachusetts are in some form of a drought," added Vandana Rao, the assistant director for water policy at the office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Rao said everyone can help by limiting water use.

"Limit, first of all, outdoor watering," she said. "None of the plants necessarily need it unless it's vegetable plants, but anything else can stay dormant for a while. And even indoor, we really don't need to take 20-minute showers, we can start limiting those. We can all be a little bit more mindful of our own personal use of water."

The drought means more than just brown lawns and parched tomato plants. The state's chief fire warden, Dave Celino, said the fire season started early this year because of the drought.

"And so we've been running fires since the end of June, right through July, and what we're concerned about is going into the fall," he said. "So if we continue this trend we'll end up with a fire season in the fall after leaf drop; once the leaves hit that dry, dry soil, it just adds to what we call the fuel loading."

Celino said there have been over 1,300 wildland fires in the state this year, including one that charred 27 acres Wednesday in Salem.

Agriculture and wildlife are also affected by the drought.

Cranberry growers say while they have plenty of product, the size of the fruit will likely be smaller due to less water. And as rivers and streams recede, there's less habitat for fish.

Alison Field Juma -- executive director of OARS, the watershed organization for the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord rivers -- said she's concerned about the effect the drought will have on stream flow.

"The problem with stream flow is that if it's very, very low, it's very, very bad, and you don't need to have it very bad for more than a few weeks to actually kill the wildlife, the fish that are there," she said. "And in our watershed, we've had record low stream flow since June."

The drought's not yet at the emergency level, but it appears it hasn't crested, either. Until it does, expect more reminders from the state to take it easy when it comes to water use.

This segment aired on August 11, 2016.


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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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