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Environment

Residents Facing Water Stress Due To Drought Urged To Use State Aid Program

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NHDES
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With another drought developing in much of the state as of this Earth Day, Gov. Chris Sununu is urging affected residents to take advantage of an emergency aid program.

Much of southern and western New Hampshire is in moderate drought, with abnormally dry conditions in the rest of the state. Without more sustained precipitation, forecasters say, the drought could worsen in the coming weeks.

The state is still running an aid program that began, for the first time, at the height of the drought late last fall. It used the state Drinking & Ground Water Trust Fund to provide bottled water and new wells for low-income home well users whose water supply ran dry due to drought.

The state has more than $600,000 still available. Sununu, visiting one drilling project at the home of a family in Gilmanton on Thursday, said he hopes more people will take advantage of it.

“When a well runs dry and you have a young family, it can get very nerve-wracking very fast for a lot of folks… all across the state in that severe and extreme drought,” he said. “Unfortunately, we know it’s likely going to happen at some point.”

He said the state will aim to expand the emergency fund if drought conditions continue to worsen this spring. State officials have said they might extend the aid to community water systems.

“It’s an easy program, easy to apply. We tried to streamline it very quickly,” Sununu said. “The fact that they got it up and running so fast, I think, is huge a testament to frankly New Hampshire government as a whole.”

Residents can contact the Department of Environmental Services to see if they qualify.

People making less than about $37,000 a year, or half of the state’s median income, can get full reimbursement for their water needs. People making more than that, up to the mean income for their county or city, can get up to half their costs covered by the program.

As dry conditions continue, public water supplies are also at risk. The city of Dover is already asking residents to take voluntary water conservation measures, with their precipitation about 20 inches below normal for the year and not much groundwater recovery during this dry spring.

“What will be critical for us is to avoid high monthly average [water demand] like we saw last June, where the average daily water draw went over 2.6 million gallons per day,” said John Storer, Dover’s community services director, in a press release. “The next three to four weeks will be very critical as if there is no significant rain, we would likely need to institute mandatory water use restrictions.”

At the height of the 2020 drought, more than 150 water utilities and town water systems in New Hampshire had voluntary or mandatory restrictions on outdoor water use.  

The dry conditions are also elevating fire risk in the state. People should use caution with any open burning and consult daily forecasts to make sure fires won’t spread.

Even as climate change increases precipitation in the Northeast, it’s also causing warmer and more volatile temperatures, which could cause more short-term droughts and associated risks in future.

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