Officials say drought is mostly over in New Hampshire

  • Yeaton Farm in Epsom is one of the many struggling dairies in New Hampshire. Just this year, 19 of the state's 120 dairy farms have closed due to continued low milk prices, now compounded by this summer's drought. ELODIE REED

  • This chart shows that water levels in a USGS monitoring well in Concord are still below the long-temr average. Depth each month is marked by red diamonds, while the long-term average for that month is marked by black triangles.  Courtesy—

Monitor staff
Published: 4/27/2017 11:36:53 PM

The drought is mostly gone and so are most – but not all – restrictions on water usage.

As the official drought designation in most of the state improved this month to “abnormally dry,” Concord, which uses Penacook Lake for drinking water with the Contoocook River as a backup, has decided to stop urging people to conserve water as of Friday.

“With the conservation efforts that city residents used last fall, coupled with increased precipitation this winter, it has brought the lake levels back to May 2015, which was the very onset of the drought,” said Chip Chesley, director of general services for the city.

Manchester, which also gets its drinking water from a lake, listed its water conservation rules last week.

On the other hand, the Bow Drinking Water Protection Committee reiterated last week that people should “keep conserving water,” while Pembroke Water Works this week urged is customers in Pembroke and Allenstown to “conserve water!!!”

Both of those, like virtually all homes and many small public water systems in New Hampshire, get their water from wells, which have been slower to refill. It takes weeks or months for moisture from the snowy winter and wet spring to percolate underground.

The U.S. Geological Survey maintains monitoring wells throughout the state, and waters levels in most of them in Merrimack County are still lower than the average for this time of year – although they have improved greatly in recent months.

“We’re pretty much at normal levels,” said Matt Gage, director of Pembroke Water Works, about the five gravel-packed wells used by its system. “It’s not knowing what the future holds. We want to stay ahead of the game – if things do turn, we’ll already be conserving.”

Mary Stampone, the state’s climatologist, said that predictions for the summer and fall are uncertain about whether things will be wet or dry. This is not unusual for New England, she said.

“People have looked through studies and tried to find correlations between a certain phase and certain weather pattern, but we tend not to find strong relationships with any one thing,” she said.

Notably, we can’t predict our weather future just from El Nino, the pattern of water temperatures in the southern Pacific Ocean that was associated with last year’s drought. It seems likely that El Nino will reform this year, but no one knows what that means for the Northeast.

“I caution people not to make a seasonal outlook based on one pattern,” she said.

The long-running drought caused some debate because state law allows towns and cities to forbid homes from doing outdoor watering but gives them no authority over businesses.

A new law that allows local government to stop businesses from watering lawns was likely to be approved Thursday by the state Senate and sent to the governor’s desk for signing.

The law is careful to note that golf courses are not lawns and are exempt– they can keep watering, no matter the drought. Other businesses can apply for exemptions, as well.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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