Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Beth Card declared in a press release on Friday that “except for the Southeast Region that saw improvement at the regional scale,” the rest of the state “will remain at their current drought levels.” That means despite the recent rain, Martha’s Vineyard, in the Islands Region, will remain categorized as experiencing Level-2 (significant) drought.
Martha’s Vineyard began feeling Level-1 (mild) drought in May, which exacerbated to significant drought levels in August. The state’s interagency Drought Management Task Force has been meeting “to more closely coordinate on drought assessments, impacts, and responses within state government.” These steps are taken based on the guidelines in the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan.
“While recent precipitation across the state has brought some improvements to streamflow and local water supplies, we still have a ways to go. The commonwealth continues to experience widespread drought in every region of the state,” Card said in the release. “To avoid overstressing water systems, we all must adhere to local water use requirements and practice water conservation methods in an effort to ensure essential needs, including drinking water, fire suppression, and habitats, continue to be met.”
Dawn Brantley, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency’s acting director, said in the release we will need to be vigilant for brush and wildfires due to the drought, although the rain did “lower fire danger.” However, according to the release, the Cape and Islands region saw only 2.5 inches of rain during August. Allan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Norton office, said the average August precipitation at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport area when not in a drought is 3.4 inches of rain.
The drought also moved the Tisbury water department to implement a townwide voluntary water ban. The Times reached out to Tisbury water superintendent James Cleary, but he was not immediately available for comment.
The state release listed recommendations for communities experiencing significant levels of drought to take.
Residents and businesses are recommended to:
- Minimize overall water use.
- Limit outdoor watering to handheld hoses or watering cans, to be used only after 5 pm or before 9 am.
- Follow local water use restrictions, if more stringent.
Immediate recommended steps for communities include:
- Adopt and implement the state’s nonessential outdoor water use restrictions for drought. Limit or prohibit installation of new sod, seeding, and/or landscaping; watering during or within 48 hours after measurable rainfall; washing of hard surfaces (sidewalks, patios, driveways, siding); personal vehicle or boat washing; filling of swimming pools.
- Establish water-use reduction targets for all water users, and identify top water users and conduct targeted outreach to help curb their use.
Short-term and medium-term recommended steps for communities include:
- Establish a year-round water conservation program that includes public education and communication.
- Provide timely information to local residents and businesses.
- Implement or establish drought surcharge or seasonal water rates.
- Check emergency interconnections for water supply.
- Develop or refine your local drought management plan, using guidance outlined in the state Drought Management Plan.
The release said state agencies will continue monitoring and assessing the situation, alongside other related issues, and notify the public. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection “will continue to provide technical assistance to communities on managing systems, including emergency connections and water supplies assistance.”
“It takes time to recover from a drought. Understanding that fact and the variations in rainfall by location across the commonwealth, water users should continue to follow the advice of their public water system and conserve as much water as possible,” MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg said in the release.
It is uncertain how much the heavy rain that hit Martha’s Vineyard on Tuesday will affect the drought status.
The commonwealth’s Drought Management Task Force will meet again on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 10 am.