By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Rainfall has been half to three-quarters of normal across most of the state for the past year. Lake Winnipesaukee has not been lower since 1982. Streams are flowing below normal in the nine southern counties, where groundwater levels are below normal. Wildfires have burned some 550 acres, more than twice the average acreage burnt in the last five years. And hundreds of dug wells have run dry.
While extreme drought conditions remain confined to the southeast corner of the state, a band of severe drought has reached to cross the middle of the state to include all of Belknap and most of Sullivan, Merrimack and Carroll counties, leaving northern Grafton County with moderate drought and Coös County abnormally dry.
On Friday, following a meeting of the Drought Management Team, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, issued a statement saying that "drought conditions are worsening in areas and spreading," noting that 80 percent of the state is experiencing moderate to extreme drought conditions while the remainder is abnormally dry. Meanwhile, the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook indicates "little improvement in the southern part of the state, but potential for improvement in the north by the end of January."
Brandon Kernen of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services said that "on a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate this drought an 8 or 9." He added that the immediate concern is that without sufficient rainfall to recharge aquifers in the fall, before the ground freezes, he anticipates dug wells will continue to fail through the winter. And without sufficient snowfall in the winter and rainfall in the spring to recharge the aquifers drought conditions could persist into next year.
Mary Stampone of the University of New Hampshire, the state climatologist, told the drought management team that with the data at hand she was unable to forecast anything other than average temperatures and precipitation for the forthcoming winter.
Kernen urged homeowners drawing water from private wells who are experiencing problems with their water supply or who have taken steps to restore their water supply to complete the "Drought Economic Impact Survey for Households on Private Wells," which is posted on the the Department of Environmental Services home page, des.nh.gov (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/drought2). There is also a survey for industrial, commercial, institutional and agricultural water users as well as public water systems (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/drought1). He said the information gathered from the surveys will assist the agency in identifying the extent and measuring the severity of the impact of the drought and in planning appropriate responses.
Kernen said that that since the survey began, 110 responses have been received. In addition, he said that since June well drillers have reported drilling or deepening another 70 private wells, but said he expects a backlog of reports to indicate that hundreds of wells have failed. He noted that well drillers are deferring work on new homes to address problems with existing wells and have waiting times stretching for several weeks.
"It is imperative," Kernen said, "that those in drought areas refrain from using water outdoors and abide by local local outdoor water use restrictions, as well as conserve indoors." He said that fixing wasteful leaks and replacing failing fixtures, like faucets and showerheads, are simple ways to reduce water consumption.
Dan Mattaini of the Dam Bureau at the Department of Environmental Services said that the level of Lake Winnipesaukee is 502.24 feet, more than 2 feet below "full lake" of 504.32 feet, one foot below the average level of 503.2 feet for this time of year and tracking the minimum level recorded during the past 34 years.
Mattaini said that discharges at the Lakeport Dam were reduced to the minimum of 250 cubic feet per second (cfs) in March and, but for a brief increase in April to accommodate kayakers on the Winnipesaukee River downstream, have been maintained at that rate ever since. He said that, if sustained, minimal flows carry the risk of adverse impacts downstream, particularly on the aquatic life of the river. Moreover, wastewater treatment plants downstream require certain volumes of water to operate efficiently. Discharges of 250 cfs are the minimum required for the operation of hydroelectric stations, whose operators hold deeded rights to the minimal flow, which Mattaini said can only be reduced through negotiation.
Mattaini recalled that although the lake fell to a comparable level in 2001, "We were able to fill it the next spring" and said he expects to do the same next year.
Meanwhile, the M/S Mount Washington is taking its last cruise of the season this weekend. Capt. Jim Morash said that apart ceasing to call at Wolfeboro and marking a rock in Eagle Island Narrows earlier this month, the low water has not posed a problem. As for rumors that ship would be unable to reach its winter port in Center Harbor, Morash said "It's news to me. It never crossed my mind."
This boat was moored in Buzzel Cove in Moultonborough, but was high and dry as of Oct. 15. Ralph Scribner, who took the photo, said it's an indication of just how low Lake Winnipesaukee is. (Courtesy photo)
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