Massachusetts is very dry: severe drought leading to water bans, record rivers and impacts on agriculture


BOSTON — Lawns, crops and rivers in the Bay State are all very thirsty this summer as drought conditions continue to worsen with no end in sight.

Severe and moderate drought conditions have triggered water bans in an increasing number of communities. Local rivers are at record highs due to lack of rain, and farmers are facing a very difficult growing season.

“I’m really shocked by the low some flows and the low water tables,” David Boutt, a professor in the geosciences department at UMass Amherst, told the Boston Herald this week. “It’s shocking how quickly the flow levels have dropped.”

Very low rivers, including the Ipswich River in the northeast part of the state, have led authorities to ban outdoor water use in many communities.

The Ipswich River is at an all-time high for this time of year, according to Ryan O’Donnell, programs coordinator for the Ipswich River Watershed Association. The most recent measurement of the river’s 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 year.

After heavy rains last summer, the measurement at this time last year was 80 cubic feet. That’s about 450 times the flow of the stream this summer.

“It’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 relief,” he added.

The incredibly low river is a major threat to aquatic life, O’Donnell noted.

He stressed that people need to conserve water, especially outdoors with lawns. This would help reduce consumption and reduce stress on the river.

“Let your lawns brown,” O’Donnell added. “It’s okay if they go brown for a while. They’ll come back eventually.

Drought also has a significant impact on farmers during their growing season. Farmers are forced to heavily irrigate potatoes, corn and other thirsty crops, Boutt said.

“Because we went through this in 2016 and 2020, the biggest farms know how to do it now and know how to survive,” added Boutt, a hydrogeologist. “But farmers who are not blessed with an irrigation system and access to water are definitely in trouble.”

In recent years, the region has oscillated between really wet periods and abnormally dry periods during the growing season.

“Summer patterns bring us either many Gulf Coast storm systems or high pressure systems that set up and prevent significant precipitation events,” Boutt said.

“One of the main predictions of a warming world is the intensification of the hydrological cycle,” he added. “When it’s wet, it’s even wetter. When it’s dry, it’s drier. We see that play out here in New England.

Beth Card, Massachusetts energy and environmental affairs secretary, declared a critical level 3 drought in the northeast and central regions of the state. The Southeast and Connecticut River Valley regions are in the Level 2 Severe 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 experiences high temperatures and little rainfall, it is more critical than ever that we all practice water conservation methods across the Commonwealth.”

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