According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, approximately 571,000 Vermonters, or 91 percent of the state's population, are living in an area of the state that is experiencing abnormally dry conditions.
This includes Windham Country, which is in a state of “moderate drought,” along with the three other counties that comprise southern Vermont. Northwest and central Vermont towns are in the lowest level of drought conditions, “abnormally dry.”
State officials are asking Vermonters to report water shortages in their area and start taking steps to conserve water.
“The effects of drought have become very noticeable in the last three to four weeks and include low rainfall totals, dry soils, brown lawns, a moderate wildfire danger, and extremely low streamflow levels,” said State Climatologist Dr. Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, a professor of geography at the University of Vermont and co-chair of the Vermont Drought Task Force.
Dupigny-Giroux said that “there was not much of a buffer going into this drought and some of the effects that we are seeing now are related to longer-term (three to four months) precipitation shortfalls. Very high daily temperatures, even in our mountainous regions, very low relative humidities, and soils that are bone dry have exacerbated the current conditions.”
The state is continue to monitor these conditions, Dupigny-Giroux said, because some parts of the state “have received on the order of 8 inches of rain less than average over the last four months. With no relief in sight from tropical moisture, it will take more than the rainfall from thunderstorms to help us get out of the current drought.”
Vermonters are asked to report low or dry wells using a newly created crowdsourced drought map. The map collects data on where water supply shortages are occurring, serving as an early warning system. This information helps the state recommend conservation practices that can be adopted now to help avoid widespread water outages if the drought continues.
The data also helps identify areas of concern or areas with repeated outages. This information helps local and state officials plan for and develop a more sustainable water supply for both private and public systems.
In the meantime, conserve water with measures like repairing leaking faucets, pipes, toilets, or other fixtures as soon as possible; running the dishwasher or washing machine with full loads only and reducing the number of loads per day; installing simple, cost-effective tools to decrease household water consumption like aerators for kitchen sink faucets and efficient showerheads; and installing rain barrels along gutters and water spouts and using this recycled water when watering plants and gardens or when washing cars.
If a homeowner has a well that has gone dry, the state's On-site Loan Program (the Vermont Wastewater and Potable Water Revolving Loan Fund) may be able to provide loans that can help pay for a new well. Drinking-water wells that run low or dry can be dangerous.
If a well runs dry and loses pressure, it may draw in contaminated water from nearby sources such as a septic system, or through small leaks in the system. If a resident notices sediment or a change in the taste or color of the water, it may be a sign that the water supply is running low.
If farms are experiencing a critical shortage of water, they can reach out to these businesses for help. If the drought persists, financial assistance may be available from U.S. Department of Agriculture in the future.
Here is more information and a list of suggested actions Vermonters can take to prepare:
• To evaluate possible health risks, residents can test their drinking water for bacteria. To order a drinking water test kit, call 800-660-9997, or visit healthvermont.gov/enviro/ph_lab/water_test.aspx.
• For a list of Vermont businesses who haul water, see agriculture.vermont.gov/administration/water-haulers-list.
• For private drinking water well and other safe drinking water resources and information, visit healthvermont.gov/enviro/water/safe_water.aspx.
• For water conservation tips, visit www3.epa.gov/region1/eco/drinkwater/water_conservation_residents.html.
• To report a water shortage, visit anrmaps.vermont.gov/websites/droughtreporter or call 802-585-4912.