Exeter recently joined 50 other Granite State communities in imposing outdoor water use restrictions amid a statewide drought.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state and more than half of Maine are experiencing “moderate drought” while communities along the state’s border with Massachusetts are experiencing “significant drought.”
The data of the National Integrated Drought Information System show that all of Strafford and Rockingham counties are at the D-1, or moderate drought level. However, 13% of Rockingham is experiencing a D-2 level or severe drought.
The NH Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) released a July 14 statement urging the public, community water systems and municipalities to implement outdoor water use restrictions.
The dry conditions affecting the state are linked to low snowpack last winter, early spring melt and below-average rainfall in recent months, according to the NHDES.
“Additionally, over the past 30 days, only 25% to 50% of normal precipitation has been received across most of the state,” the agency said. “These conditions led to a rapid decline in soil moisture, surface water levels and stream flow, leading to the declaration of drought.”
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The NHDES said drought conditions are likely to persist.
“Precipitation forecasts indicate that the amount of rainfall needed to alleviate drought conditions over the next few months is unlikely to materialize,” the agency reported. “In addition, the temperature outlook signals the potential for above normal temperatures, which may exacerbate drought conditions.”
What are towns and villages doing?
The Exeter Select board voted on Monday to implement Tier 2 outdoor water use restrictions – which allow the landscape to be watered every other day (odd number of houses every odd days and even number of houses on even days) – but does not limit other outdoor water uses at this stage .
“It’s been over a year since we’ve had a drought and have lifted our (drought) restrictions,” said Jennifer Perry, director of Exeter’s public works department. “But it’s been a drought situation that has developed quite quickly.”
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The council also encouraged the public to practice water conservation as the city could face more severe drought in the future, according to Perry.
According to United States Geological Surveythe instantaneous flow of the River Exeter is also low for this time of year.
“It’s well below average, for this time of year, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Perry said of the flow in the River Exeter. “Groundwater levels have dropped very sharply across the state.”
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Perry said she doesn’t expect the drought to be permanent, but a seasonal issue that the city will have to deal with more regularly.
“I think times have definitely changed, and we know we’re in changing conditions,” Perry said, referring to the ongoing climate crisis. “That makes it very difficult – as the state hydrologist likes to call our ‘teacup-sized aquifers’ in New Hampshire – we don’t have large aquifers that span the entire State, they are very small and are easily hit.”
Perry doesn’t “see the (restrictions) lifting until winter”.
Water conservation encouraged
Aquarion Water Co., which serves Hampton, North Hampton, Rye and 43 customers in Stratham, recommends customers water their lawns only twice a week – even-numbered homes and unnumbered homes on Sundays and Wednesdays; and odd houses on Saturdays and Tuesdays.
The company also recommends that irrigation not be done between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Other communities, such as Dover and Portsmouth, have yet to enact outdoor water restrictions.
“Dover has not issued any water restrictions at this time,” said Michael Gillis, director of media services for the City of Dover. “While rainfall levels over the past few months have helped keep Dover drinking water wells stable, with the Pudding Hill aquifer offline until the new treatment plant is built and commissioned in service later next year, the city still encourages voluntary conservation measures.”
Exeter Selectwoman Lovey Roundtree Oliff said the city should not just be thinking about water conservation, but other sustainable measures to tackle climate crises.
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“It’s also about recycling and composting and just making a change in a more broadly conservative direction, especially as the number of our cities increases and the population increases in this area,” Roundtree Oliff said. . “If we started thinking differently about how we use (resources) in general, it wouldn’t seem so bad every summer.”
Exeter’s water restrictions are an interim solution which the Select Board as well as the city’s DPW may revisit as the situation develops.
“(Water use) has gone up since May, and that’s because people are using outside water for irrigation,” Perry said. “We need to make people aware of the importance of conservation.”
Exeter officials said it was important to save water for essential uses, such as fire extinguishing, drinking, cooking, sanitizing and cleaning clothes and dishes.