Due to above normal temperatures throughout July and early August and more than three months of below normal rainfall, Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Kathleen Theoharides today declared a Level 2 – Significant Drought in all seven regions of the Commonwealth – the Western, Connecticut River Valley, Central, Northeast, Southeast, Cape Cod, and Islands regions. At a Level 2 – Significant Drought, as outlined in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan, conditions are becoming significantly dry and warrant detailed monitoring of drought conditions, close coordination among state and federal agencies, emphasis on water conservation, more stringent watering restrictions, and technical outreach and assistance for the affected municipalities.
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said, “The combination of three months of limited rainfall and well above normal temperatures through July and early August have led to very dry conditions in every region of Massachusetts. All levels of government are coordinating to address these critical drought conditions, and it is essential that residents and businesses across the Commonwealth take extra care to conserve water both indoors and outdoors and be mindful of the increased risk of wildlife when using any fire or smoking materials.”
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Director Samantha Phillips said, “Because the Commonwealth continues to experience drought conditions across the state, the public is urged to continue conserving water in order to reduce the demand on water supplies. Dry conditions increase the threat of brush and wildland fires, so we urge residents to exercise caution when using charcoal grills, matches, and other open flames during outdoor activities and to call 911 immediately if there is a fire to prevent the fire from spreading.”
The declaration was informed by recommendations and discussions from a recent meeting of the Drought Management Task Force (DMTF), composed of state and federal officials and other entities, and will remain in effect until water levels return to normal in the affected regions.
Temperatures remain well above normal, as the Commonwealth recorded the second hottest July on record last month. Rainfall was scattered across the state with only a few areas receiving above normal precipitation; most areas were in a deficit by 1 to 3 inches. Meanwhile, temperatures throughout the first two weeks of August are 2 to 4 degrees above normal throughout Massachusetts, with warmer than normal temperatures predicted in the coming weeks and months. While most regions of the Commonwealth are experiencing a classic long-term drought, the Southeast, Cape Cod, and Islands regions are experiencing conditions akin to a ‘flash drought’ which is a rapid onset drought with decreased precipitation, above normal temperatures, and incoming radiation resulting in abnormally high evapotranspiration all combining to increase fire danger and decrease crop moisture levels.
Additionally, wildland fire risk continues across the state. Extended drought conditions have rendered grasses, shrubs and forest fuels very dry across most of the state, and extremely dry in areas of the Southeast, resulting in increased wildfire risk and added challenges for firefighting agencies. Long term precipitation deficits have also led to extremely dry soil conditions, which results in fires burning deep into the ground, and taking multiple days to extinguish. These conditions exhaust local resources and increase risk to firefighter safety. Fire officials remind the public to be very aware of this situation, and to be careful with all open burning and disposal of combustible materials.
The state continues to intensely monitor and assess the drought situation, and any associated environmental and agricultural impacts. Task Force officials also noted that the state’s streamflow saw overall improvement in July because of scattered rainfall. However, within the first two weeks of August, conditions seem to have worsened, with well below normal streamflow observed in most regions. The state asks residents in every region across the Commonwealth to be very mindful of the amount of water they are using, to be proactive in reducing or eliminating outdoor water use, to reduce indoor water use, and to address plumbing leaks as soon as possible. Limiting nonessential outdoor watering is one of the most effective ways to minimize the impacts of drought on water supply and the environment, and ensure there is enough water for fire protection. All these steps will help reduce water use to ensure essential needs such as drinking water and fire protection are being met, and habitats have enough water to recover.