New Hampshire Drought Update: Struggling Dairy Farms and Municipal Mandates

Oct 5, 2016

The Granite State is dangerously dry. New Hampshire has received about half of the normal rainfall this year; as the colder weather sets in, we talk to experts about the effects of water scarcity, and how the state is handling the drought. 


GUESTS:

  • Dave Brooks - Reporter for the Concord Monitor and blogger at Granite Geek.
  • Brandon Kernan - Manager of hydrology and conservation with the N. H. Department of Environmental Services and coordinator of drought management for the state. 
  • Lorraine Merrill - Commissioner of Agriculture, Markets and Food for New Hampshire, and a dairy farmer.
  • Brian Goetz - Deputy Director for the Department of Public Works in Portsmouth. 
  • Kevin Smith - Town manager in Londonderry. 

Notable remarks from the show:
Click to enlarge map.
Credit NH DES

See if your town is banning or restricting water with this comprehensive map of drought conditions and city regulations in New Hampshire, provided by the NH Department of Environmental Services. You can see reports on drought conditions on the DES website

Lorraine Merrill, who owns her own dairy farm in New Hampshire, discussed how the drought has long lasting impacts on the ability of farmers to grow feed for their animals. 

Because this is compounding two years of milk prices that have been so low, farmers have been losing money significantly. So they have spent all the expenses that it takes to raise the crops for a year and not gotten those yields in...therefore, they don't have the feed to feed their animals for the winter and into the next growing season.

We had a call from Sandy, from Nashua, who asked, "if our precipitation normalizes, how long until we are no longer in a drought situation?" Brandon Kernan, coordinator for drought management in the state, said the ability to recover depends largely on weather patterns, precipitation levels, and a number of other factors, but he predicts:

We will need several large sustained rain events over a several month period to get out of this. And if it doesn't happen before our ground freezes, and our precipitation comes in the form of snow, and sits on the top of the ground, [the drought is] going to go into next year. 

Kernan also noted that drought is a tricky thing to assess, because it does not cause damage to property in a concentrated area, like a hurricane, for example.

If we were to place all these impacts in one town or one neighborhood, it would be national headline news. Hundreds of wells are damaged, businesses are knocked out...just because it is spread out in time and space, it is a little less obvious.

Kernan encourages listeners to go to the DES website and fill out the "Impact Reporting Form," which will help the government gather specific information about damage in order to apply for resources and funding. Find the form for residences here, and the form for industrial, commercial, institutional, and public water systems here

Brian Goetz, Deputy Director for the Department of Public Works in Portsmouth, recaps an unprecedented meeting that involved many Seacoast area towns, water systems, and private water companies held Wednesday morning to address drought management. 

Portsmouth and the region of the Seacoast, we are the epicenter...We invited all the water systems [in the area]...and they all came.

These water systems, as well as scientists and local officials, brainstormed ways to pool resources in order to protect public water. Goetz notes that Portsmouth on an odd/even restriction for outside watering, meaning residents could water their lawns on odd days only, but the city moved to full outside watering restrictions on September 8th. 

Many listeners wanted to know what is being done to keep commercial businesses from overusing water, since restrictions have already been put on private residences. Kevin Smith, town manager for Londonderry, says that state law only allows restrictions on residential lawn watering and not businesses.

I think that's something that may need to be looked at by the state legislature next year, because unless it's something that's vitally necessary to operating a business, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense that the lawns of the businesses can look really green still, but the residences aren't going to be watering their lawns.

He concludes by saying,

We are all in this together, and we've all got to be doing our part.

Below is a photograph of two charts created by Dave Brooks, reporter for the Concord Monitor, that shows the level of rainfall in his own backyard, in Mont Vernon. The solid line is the average level of precipitation for the past 30 years, and the jagged line is the actual rainfall in the past two years. The bottom chart shows the significant drop in water levels for the year 2016. 

Credit Dave Brooks