New Hampshire faces drought

by Alex Fredman | 10/13/16 12:31am

As peak foliage returns to Hanover this fall, the beautiful autumn colors symbolize a yearly New England tradition. But underground, the situation could not be more different. Currently, abnormally low groundwater levels have caused much of the state of New Hampshire to experience drought conditions.

As of Oct. 6, Hanover is considered to be under “moderate drought” conditions by the United States Drought Monitor. However, the conditions are not serious enough to call for any water restrictions or bans. So far, those actions have been confined mostly to the southern part of the state, where drought conditions are far worse.

As a result of these conditions, restrictions have been placed on over one hundred water systems in the southern part of the state. These range from voluntary restrictions on water usage to outright bans on outdoor usage.

Todd Cartier, the superintendent of the Hanover Water Department, said while the state can impose water restrictions, it’s up to the individual water departments, like Hanover’s, to take specific actions.

“We monitor the reservoir levels weekly, and we look at historically where they have been this time of year. We’re really not below average,” Cartier said.

While there are a few restrictions enacted in other parts of Grafton County, the closest bans are roughly 40 miles away from Hanover.

Because of this, Dartmouth is not taking any immediate water conservation measures, according to Phil Charbonneau of Facilities, Operations & Management. He said that because the College’s water supply originates from the town water supply, the town water department ultimately determines whether or not the college should be conserving water.

The drought began this summer and is expected to continue into the spring of 2017, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. Causes for the drought include a lower-than-average snowpack from last winter, a decrease in precipitation, an increase in evapotranspiration and a depletion of groundwater, according to a press release from DES.

Although the threat to the water supply is not serious in Hanover, the drought conditions have nonetheless affected the environment.

The Hanover Conservancy, a local non-profit organization focused on land and water conservation, has been monitoring local streams and reserves.

“Some of them are quite dry,” said Executive Director Adair Mulligan. She said the organization is concerned about a reduction in aquatic habitats due to a warming of the water and that this is dangerous for cold-water species like trout.

The situation, however, is not serious enough for the Conservancy to take much further action.

“There’s not much we can do other than to encourage people to practice sensible water conservation,” Mulligan said.

Despite receiving an average of over 40 inches of rain per year, New Hampshire’s geology makes it more susceptible to drought than many other parts of the country since most of the state’s watersheds are incapable of storing large amounts of water.

Additionally, only 14 percent of New Hampshire’s land area sits over unconsolidated groundwater deposits, which is significantly less than in most other states. This makes the state’s water supply system less resilient to dry periods, according to DES.

The last time this area experienced drought conditions was from 2001 to 2003. This particular drought was the third-worst on record. As a result, many communities adopted new water conservation methods to increase the resiliency of water systems in the event of future droughts.

Although much of the state, including Hanover, is not under direct threat of water restrictions, DES still urges residents across the state to conserve water, especially for non-essential uses like washing cars or watering lawns.

For areas like Hanover experiencing less-severe conditions, DES suggests limiting outdoor water usage to every other day between the hours of 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. As of now, these are only suggestions and are not mandatory.

As the drought continues, the Hanover Water Department is prepared for the possibility of taking action if conditions worsen in this area.

Cartier, the water superintendent, said the first step would be to enact a voluntary water restriction and then reassess the situation to see what additional steps are needed.

He said that if the voluntary restrictions were effective in mitigating water shortages, there would be no need to take further action.

“If not,” he added, “we may have to impose a mandatory water restriction.”