Due to the severity of an ongoing drought, the Connecticut government issued its first-ever drought watch for six of eight counties in the state, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced Friday.
The drought watch affects Fairfield, Hartford, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven and Tolland Counties. According to Public Information Officer for the Office of Policy and Management Chris McClure, the other two counties of New London and Windham have both received enough rainfall to remain in drought advisory — a step below drought watch status.
According to the State of Connecticut Water Status, several criteria triggered the drought watch. These include three months of 65 percent below average precipitation, as well as several months of below average groundwater and streamflow. The Interagency Drought Workgroup, a multidepartment coalition including the Office of Policy and Management, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Public Health, recommended the decision based on these criteria on Oct. 14.
In the state’s drought preparedness and response plan, the drought watch advises Connecticut residents to reduce water usage by 15 percent, a measure more severe than the drought advisory issued statewide last June, which requested a 10 percent reduction in water usage.
“It would be extremely helpful if residents could be mindful of their water consumption and take sensible steps to help stretch our water supply,” Malloy said in the press release.
In addition to residents’ voluntary reduction of water use, drought watch actions include requesting that public water suppliers ask their customers to reduce water usage, as well as encouraging municipal governments to conserve water by 15 percent, according to the Connecticut Drought Preparedness and Response Plan. Malloy has also asked the state’s Department of Administrative Services to determine how state government facilities can conserve water, according to the press release.
Even though the drinking water reservoir criterion has not yet been triggered, reservoirs remain in danger, McClure said. According to the press release, reservoirs across the state were on average less than 80 percent of normal capacity levels as of the end of September.
“That is alarming to anybody,” McClure said.
Multiple agencies were involved in determining the state’s drought watch status. According to Department of Agriculture supervising environmental analyst Stephen Anderson, agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey regularly attend workgroup meetings and the National Weather Service provides data on precipitation and other criteria. In fact, he said the decision to issue the drought watch was unsurprising given that precipitation has been below average for the past three years.
As the drought watch goes into effect, the Interagency Drought Workgroup will continue to monitor the drought’s severity. According to McClure, drought conditions in reservoirs will be monitored by the Department of Public Health and the Department of Agriculture will continue to monitor the agricultural community and to improve its irrigation systems.
McClure added that the unpredictability of weather patterns makes it impossible to know how long the drought watch will be in effect. Any guesses, he said, would be “unreliable.”
“We will hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” McClure said.
The average yearly precipitation in New Haven is 47.1 inches.