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Serious drought threatens Maine

By the Associated Press

As stream flows slow to a trickle and ground water levels drop, conditions in Maine are getting close to those during the drought that parched the Northeast two years ago, the U.S. Geological Survey said Thursday.

Because of a lack of rain, stream flows are at record lows for this time of year along the Sheepscot River in central Maine, and the Narraguagus and Machias rivers Down East.

Flows along most of Maine’s other rivers were well below average for the Aug. 13 date when they were checked, said Robert Lent, the USGS Maine District chief.

“Stream flows in the next week or two could be lower than they’ve ever been,” said Lent, a member of a governor’s task force dealing with drought issues, which was scheduling a meeting within the next several days.

Below the state’s dusty surface, groundwater levels in central, western and eastern regions of Maine are below normal and similar to levels recorded during the drought of 1999, the USGS said following tests of 10 wells during the last week of July.

Levels in northern Maine were near normal, although drought conditions persisted there as well.

“If conditions do not improve in the near future, as we head into fall, we’re likely to see a drought similar to, or even worse than, the drought we experienced in 1999,” Lent said.

Besides threatening water supplies, low water levels harm the habitat for many fish species.

A prolonged dry spell that seized the Northeast in the summer of 1999 withered crops, fed forest fires and threatened water supplies in some cities. Portland’s rainfall for the two months leading up to July 30 of that year was 41 percent of normal.

Maine’s blueberry crop is showing similar effects of this summer’s dry conditions as during 1999. Without adequate irrigation, the berries are withering in the barrens.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said most of Maine was experiencing abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions as of Tuesday. And a few Mainers reported that their wells had run dry for the first time in years, WCSG-TV reported.

The National Weather Service promised a small measure of relief in the form of scattered showers and thunderstorms accompanying more humid conditions Friday. But this weekend, somewhat drier and cooler air is expected to return.

The weather service said several days of light to moderate rainfall, and a weather pattern bringing rainfall every three or four days, are needed to alleviate drought conditions in Maine.

Precipitation in Belfast was 18.25 inches below normal for the 12 month period from August 2000 through July, the weather service said. In Augusta, precipitation was 10.81 inches below normal and Lewiston was 8.5 inches below normal.

and Portland was 6.44 inches below.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 17, 2001

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