As Vermont Sees Early-Season Drought, Crowd-Sourcing Tool Helps Public Report and Track Water Shortages

 

June 26, 2020 — According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, approximately 571,000 Vermonters or 91% of the population are living in an area of the state that is experiencing abnormally dry conditions. 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 3-4 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 the co-Chair  of the Vermont Drought Task Force. “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 (3-4 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. We continue to monitor these conditions because some parts of the state have received on the order of 8” of rain less than average over the last 4 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."

The State is asking Vermonters to report low or dry wells using a newly-created a crowd-sourced 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 more sustainable water supply for both private and public systems.

Here are four easy habits Vermonters can adopt to conserve water at home:

  1. Repair leaking faucets, pipes, toilets, or other fixtures as soon as possible.
  2. Run the dishwasher or washing machine only with full loads and reduce the number of loads per day.
  3. Install simple, cost-effective tools to decrease household water consumption like aerators for kitchen sink faucets and efficient showerheads.
  4. Installation of rain barrels along gutters and water spouts. Use 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 Onsite Loan Program 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 USDA in the future.

Here is more information and a list of suggested actions Vermonters can take to prepare: