For the past three months, New Haven has been experiencing its worst drought of the decade. Last week, the United States Drought Monitor changed the drought’s status from moderate to severe.
Since June, precipitation has totaled about seven inches, well below the usual 15-inch average. Despite the lack of rain, the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority — New Haven’s water supplier — says reservoir levels are still higher than their drought advisory levels of 43 percent of reservoir capacity. Even so, state officials are requesting that all Elm City residents and businesses reduce water consumption by 10 percent.
Last week, only 5 percent of the state was said to be experiencing a “severe” drought — which signals likely crop or pasture losses, common water shortages and water restrictions imposed. But this week, the severe drought expanded from 5 percent to 70 percent of the state, impacting New Haven.
“I want to emphasize that water levels in Connecticut’s larger reservoirs and water systems are perfectly fine at this point,” Raul Pino, the commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Public Health, said in a June newsletter about the drought advisory. “Therefore people should be conscientious about their water consumption so that we don’t begin to experience drought conditions later this summer, particularly if rainfall continues to be below average.”
Three months have passed since the newsletter, and rainfall has continued to trail average numbers. But the Regional Water Authority, which provides water to 430,000 consumers in Greater New Haven using its 10 reservoirs and three aquifers, maintains an adequate supply of water, according to Communications & Outreach Manager Kate Powell.
While the Regional Water Authority is currently running about 8 percentage points below average water levels, the reservoir still remains 18 percentage points above the drought advisory level, Powell told the News this week.
Although the state is under a drought advisory, this classification stems from decreased precipitation levels over the past three months. But the surplus of reservoir water means that the lack of rainfall does not have a significant impact on commercial and public use in the city.
In addition to the current drought, New Haven experienced droughts in 2007 and 2010. But neither of these were worse than the region’s drought in 2002; in the fall of 2001, New Haven experienced little precipitation. Continuing into the winter and early spring when reservoirs are generally replenished by snow and rainfall, the drought continued. According to Powell, the 2002 drought is similar to the ongoing one in terms of rainfall, but this year’s reservoir levels are higher.
The Regional Water Authority continues to encourage consumers to eliminate unnecessary water use and to avoid wasting water even with the promising reservoir levels. These recommendations include showering for fewer than five minutes, washing only full-sized loads of laundry and chilling tap water instead of letting the faucet run until it is cold.
Although water levels for consumption seem steady, the drought affects local recreation. Just last week, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced that it was extending its fishing closure of a portion of the Housatonic River by two weeks. The original closure was announced on June 15 due to low water flows and warm water temperatures.
“Flows continue to be very low on the Housatonic River and although water temperatures have moderated some, they remain stressful for trout and other cold water species.” Peter Aarrestad, director of DEEP’s Inland Fisheries Division. “Extending the closure period there will protect these fish from any additional stress during the unusually hot and dry conditions.”
The National Weather Service predicts that drought levels in New Haven will continue through at least the end of this year.