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State Officials Urge Water Conservation Amid Growing Drought


State officials gathered Thursday for an update on the drought that now covers all of Southern and Central New Hampshire.

They typically hold this meeting once a drought has persisted for several weeks. This one began in May and may spread to the whole state by fall.

The state’s last drought management working group meeting was in 2016, when drought came on more slowly than this year’s, but ended up lasting longer and being more severe.  

In the 2016 drought, state water well program manager Abby Fopiano says dozens of private wells ran dry. So far this year:

"I have heard a few reports of very shallow dug wells that have gone dry that have needed to be replaced, but we're really nowhere near where we were at this time in 2016,” Fopiano says.

Still, officials want people to try to conserve water.

They say it’s affecting some farmers’ summer growing season and fall planting schedule, forcing some hydroelectric dams to shut down, and causing record low flows in some streams.

Some local water systems already have restrictions in place on outdoor water use. Whole towns and cities could follow suit.

At Thursday’s meeting, officials from cities like Portsmouth, Manchester and Concord said they’re seeing very high water demand this year, but recent rains have put their water supplies in good shape for now

State water conservation manager Stacey Herbold says years of repeated drought may feel routine, but that's no reason to be wasteful.

“People are hearing the message more often, and the hope is that people will be more careful about how much they're using,” Herbold says. “The one thing we have to be careful about, though, is that people don't become numb to the message."

State scientists say overall, climate change should make the Northeast wetter, not drier. But they say the region's patchy groundwater supplies are more at risk from a short-term lack of rain than larger, deeper aquifers in the West.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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