Severe and moderate drought conditions have triggered water bans in an increasing number of communities. Local rivers are at an all-time low due to lack of rain and farmers are facing a very difficult growing season.
“I am really shocked at how low some of the creek flows are and how low the aquifers are,” David Boutt, a professor in the UMass Amherst Department of Geosciences, told the Herald this week. “It’s shocking how quickly the flow levels have dropped.”
Very shallow rivers, including the Ipswich River in the northeastern part of the state, have led officials to ban outdoor water use in many communities.
The Ipswich River is at an all-time low for this time of year, according to Ryan O’Donnell, program coordinator for the Ipswich River Watershed Association. The most up-to-date measurement for the river’s flow rate was 0.17 cubic feet per second, which is about 50 times less than the median flow rate of 9 cubic feet at this time of year.
After significant rainfall last summer, the measurement at this time last year was 80 cubic feet. That’s about 450 times the flow rate this summer.
“It’s pretty dramatic,” O’Donnell said. “The exact opposite of this year.
“We are in a critical drought situation right now, so it’s certainly not ideal and it’s hard to know when there will be relief,” he added.
The incredibly low river is a major threat to aquatic life, O’Donnell noted.
He pointed out that people need to conserve water, especially outdoors with lawns. This would help reduce consumption and reduce stress on the river.
“Let your lawns turn brown,” added O’Donnell. “It’s okay for them to turn brown over a period of time. Eventually they will come back. ”Drought also has a significant impact on farmers during the growing season. Farmers are forced to heavily irrigate potatoes, corn and other thirsty crops, Boutt said.
“Since we tackled it in 2016 and 2020, the larger farms know how to do it now and they know how to survive,” added Boutt, a hydrogeologist. “But those farmers who aren’t so lucky to have an irrigation system installed and access to water are definitely struggling.”
The region in recent years has fluctuated between truly humid periods and abnormally dry periods during the growing season.
“Summer patterns are bringing us many storm systems from the Gulf coast or high pressure systems that create and prevent significant rainfall events,” said Boutt.
“One of the general predictions of a warming world is the intensification of the hydrological cycle,” he added. “When it’s wet, it’s wetter. When it’s dry, it’s drier. We are seeing it in play here in New England. ”
Beth Card, Massachusetts secretary of energy and environment, declared a critical level 3 drought in the northeastern and central regions of the state. The Southeast and Connecticut River Valley regions are in the Level 2 significant drought category and the Cape Cod, Islands and Western regions are in the Level 1 mild drought category.
Card said in a statement, “As the state endures high temperatures and little rainfall, it is now more critical than ever that we all practice water conservation methods across the Commonwealth.”