Officials encouraging water conservation amid mild drought conditions

  • In Greenfield, the mild drought conditions compounded with the dredging of the Leyden Glen Reservoir, pictured, recently prompted the city to strongly encourage residents to voluntarily conserve water. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/13/2022 3:03:07 PM
Modified: 7/13/2022 3:02:52 PM

As mild drought conditions continue throughout Franklin County and the North Quabbin region — with potential to progress to “significant drought conditions” by the end of the week — communities are beginning to impose water conservation measures if they haven’t already.

“(The Connecticut River Valley) is seeing a lack of precipitation and stream flows dropping,” said Jennifer Pederson, executive director of Massachusetts Water Works Association and a member of the Drought Management Task Force. “Those are the two big things for the Connecticut River Valley.”

Pederson noted that in general, the state has declared droughts more frequently since 2019, when the Massachusetts Drought Management Plan was revised to include more sensitive trigger points for drought classification. As a result, the state experiences “flashy conditions,” in which droughts are declared and called off repeatedly.

“(Mass Water Works is) concerned that people are going to become desensitized to droughts,” she said. “I think we’re concerned that people ... aren’t going to react (when really needed) if we’re always in a drought. That’s not to say people shouldn’t be mindful of their water use.”

Pederson also cautioned that water restrictions in a given community aren’t necessarily indicative of a drought situation. Often, they are a result of regulatory drivers that require a town or city to implement restrictions when stream flow standards in a permit call for it. The other option for municipalities is to put calendar restrictions in place, requiring limits on water use regardless of stream flow or precipitation levels.

She added that a drought situation doesn’t always point to a system’s ability to provide water, either.

“They could have more than enough water, but because they have this permit, they have to restrict it,” Pederson explained.

Athol

Paul Raskevitz, assistant superintendent of the Department of Public Works in Athol, said the town’s water restriction, which went into effect late last month, was triggered by the stream flow of the Millers River.

“Last year was kind of different,” Raskevitz said. “We had a lot of rain last year. The years prior to that, for several years, we’ve been in restrictions right around this time.”

He said the current restriction on water use in Athol is the first step.

“We need a long, soaking rain — not like thundershowers, because … that doesn’t soak in,” Raskevitz said.

Rebekah McDermott, superintendent of the Shelburne Falls Fire District’s Water Department, said Shelburne’s water restrictions, which went into effect in mid-May, are dependent upon the stream flow of the North River in Colrain.

“When it falls below 117 cubic feet per second for three days in a row, we’re in water restrictions,” McDermott said. “Even if it goes above that for a few days, we continue the restrictions.”

She said locally, residents are advised not to leave sprinkler systems on for extended periods of time, but that watering grass or a garden with a handheld hose is acceptable.

“People are generally very, very good,” McDermott said. “We’ve never imposed a fine; we don’t want to do something like that.”

Echoing Pederson, McDermott said that even during the most severe droughts in the last decade, the community’s wells were not impacted.

In Greenfield, the mild drought conditions compounded with the dredging of the Leyden Glen Reservoir recently caused the city to strongly encourage residents to voluntarily conserve water. With the reservoir offline through the summer, the city has been relying on the Millbrook Wellfield and Green River Pumping Station for all of its water needs.

“It helps to do voluntary rather than go straight to mandatory,” said Greenfield Public Works Director Marlo Warner II. “Sometimes the voluntary conservation will prevent us from going mandatory if drought conditions continue, but not always.”

Greenfield residents are asked to limit lawn watering to hours outside of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., reduce car washing, ensure taps are turned off, and wait for a full load before doing laundry, among other conservation measures.

“We’re taking this step now in hopes that mandatory conservation measures won’t be necessary,” Warner said. “Rest assured that we continue to have enough water to supply the city, particularly when it comes to firefighting and other essential functions, but we want people to be mindful that every drop counts.”

Pederson emphasized that residents should rely on local guidance when it comes to water restrictions as opposed to messaging from the state.

“If your water system has legitimate water capacity issues … that advice and guidance needs to be followed,” she said.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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