Maine in a"drought watch."

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Water levels sinking statewide

By Michelle Firmbach and Lars Trodson, pherald@seacoastonline.com

It may have rained Tuesday night, but one weather expert says the brief downpour was not enough to quench the thirst of this parched region.

Although the area is not officially in a drought, state climatologist Barry Keim said the region is in what is called a "drought watch."

Drought conditions are inching toward our region, he said.

Parts of northern New England have recorded less than 25 percent of the average amount of rainfall in the past month and a half, resulting in drought conditions that threaten the forests and water quality.

Even following Tuesday night's thunderstorms, Seacoast residents awoke Wednesday to streets that were dry and gardens still a bit wilted.

"My best guestimate is this will not have a big impact on the problem," said Keim. "We need something in the order of a couple inches of water, but we need it to fall over a longer period of time. Highly scattered and short-lived (showers) won't do the trick."

Keim said an average rainfall of 5 inches would be considered normal for northern New Hampshire from the middle of July to now.

"The really dry conditions began around July 18, and places like Berlin have recorded less than one inch," said Keim. "This is at a time when the temperatures are relatively high, so the demand for moisture is very high because there is more energy there is more evaporation taking place. What this is leading up to is a lot of stress on vegetation. People who have gardens would certainly have to irrigate more often than normal."

The need to water, Keim noted, is coming at a time when water levels are decreasing all throughout the state.

"Right now we're in what's called a drought watch," he said. "Northern New Hampshire is in a moderate drought, and most of the rest of New England is in a drought watch condition."

He said the region has not yet crossed the threshold into a full-fledged drought but he added that, due to the lack of rain, conditions are "deteriorating."

"Stream flow is very low on many of the rivers in both the north and south, but it is more severe in the north," said Keim. "Water levels are low, and reservoirs have been drawn down."

A dry season has an impact not only on the quantity of water available, but the quality as well.

"Water quality certainly is affected. We have poorer water because there is less water to dilute the pollutants," Keim said. Shallow wells will likely feel the effects if the dry spell continues.

"The town of Durham has had an inch and a half of rain in the past six weeks, when we should have gotten something more like four to five inches," said Keim. "Portsmouth conditions would be very similar to what is being seen in Durham."

Keim said such conditions require a "little bit of common sense" on the part of the public.

"It wouldn't be a bad idea to conserve water," Keim said. "If you have a shallow well, don't put your sprinkler on all day; use a little bit of common sense."

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, extreme northern Vermont, New Hampshire north of the White Mountains, and the upper two-thirds of Maine are in a "moderate" drought. A map of the drought and drought-watch regions can be found at http://enso.unl.edu/monitor/monitor.html.

http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/8_30a.htm

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 30, 2001


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