Severe drought sparking water bans, record low rivers, farming impacts across Mass.
BOSTON — Lawns, crops and rivers across the Bay State are all super thirsty this summer as drought conditions continue to worsen with no end in sight.
The severe and moderate drought conditions have triggered water bans in a growing number of communities. Local rivers are at record lows because of the lack of rain, and farmers are facing a very difficult growing season.
“I’m really shocked by how low some of the stream flows are, and how low water tables are,” David Boutt, a professor in the UMass Amherst Department of Geosciences, told The Boston Herald this week. “It’s shocking how quickly the stream levels dropped off.”
The very low 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 a record low for this time of year, according to Ryan O’Donnell, programs coordinator for the Ipswich River Watershed Association. The most up-to-date measurement for the river’s stream flow was 0.17 cubic feet per second, which is about 50 times lower than the median flow of 9 cubic feet at this time of the year.
After significant rain last summer, the measurement at this time last year was 80 cubic feet. That’s about 450 times the stream flow rate this summer.
“That’s quite dramatic,” O’Donnell said. “The exact opposite of this year.
“We’re in a critical drought situation right now, so it’s certainly not ideal, and it’s hard to know when there will be any relief,” he added.
The incredibly low river is a major threat to aquatic life, O’Donnell noted.
He emphasized that people need to conserve water, especially outdoors with lawns. That would help cut back on consumption, and reduce stress on the river.
“Let your lawns go brown,” O’Donnell added. “It’s OK for them to turn brown for a period of time. They’ll come back eventually.”
The drought is also having a significant impact on farmers during their growing season. Farmers are being forced to heavily irrigate potatoes, corn and other thirsty crops, Boutt said.
“Because we went through this in 2016 and 2020, bigger farms know how to do it now and know how to survive,” added Boutt, a hydrogeologist. “But those farmers who aren’t as fortunate to have an irrigation system set up and access to water are definitely struggling.”
The region in recent years has been oscillating between really wet periods and abnormally dry periods during the growing season.
“The summer patterns are either bringing us lots of storm systems from the Gulf Coast or high pressure systems that set up and prevent significant precipitation events,” Boutt said.
“One of the overarching predictions from a warming world is the intensification of the hydrologic cycle,” he added. “When it’s wet, it’s wetter. When it’s dry, it’s drier. We’re seeing that at play here in New England.”
Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card has declared a Level 3 Critical Drought in the Northeast 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 precipitation, now more than ever it is critical that we all practice water conservation methods across the Commonwealth.”