As N.H. Drought Spreads, Officials Seek To Limit Water Use

Jul 12, 2018

Moderate drought conditions persist across much of New Hampshire.
Credit DES

Nearly half of New Hampshire is officially in a drought, with the whole state experiencing unusual dryness – and forecasts predict more serious, statewide drought by mid-fall.

It’s prompted state regulators to recommend limiting outdoor water use until conditions improve.

Despite a bout of heavy rain last month, the state is getting dryer.

All of Merrimack, Sullivan, Strafford and Belknap Counties are now in moderate drought, along with parts of Northern and Southern New Hampshire.

State water conservation chief Stacey Herbold says summers can always be tough on groundwater and drinking water supplies – but the recent heat and lack of rain isn't helping.

The state is 1 to 3 inches below normal precipitation over the past three months.

Herbold says it means homeowners may already be seeing their lawns turn brown and gardens dry up. She says farmers’ growing seasons are also suffering, and stream levels are shrinking.

Drinking water supplies could be impacted by the end of the summer.

But she says people should not be watering their lawns right now, and should water vegetables only at certain times of day.

And she says they shouldn’t be using water for any other outdoor purpose, such as on decks and cars. 

"At this point, everything is pointing to a much dryer summer. So it's very important that we all conserve,” she says. “We all need to do our part because we're all sharing the same resource."

More than 40 of the state's water systems have mandatory or voluntary outdoor water use restrictions in place as of this week.

Herbold says many more systems – 166, plus 15 towns – Issued such orders at the height of the state’s most recent drought, in 2016 and 2017. In that drought, she says, hundreds of wells ran dry. 

(Click to see a list of local water systems with restrictions in place.)

"If we don't start [conserving water] now, we could find ourselves in a tough period when we really didn't have to be,” she says.

Before this three-year period, Herbold says, New Hampshire’s last drought was in 2003. She says warming weather may mean this is the new normal.

Groundwater levels typically recharge the most in spring and fall, when lower temperatures prevent evaporation, and there are fewer growing plants to suck up rainfall.