June 19, 2019
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USDA declares five Maine counties a ‘disaster area’

Kathleen Pierce | BDN
Kathleen Pierce | BDN
If farmers don't irrigate this season, corn fields, like this patch at Harris Farm, are drying up in the drought.

LEBANON, Maine — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is declaring five counties in southern Maine a disaster area over the recent drought.

Farmers in York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin and Oxford counties are now eligible for emergency loans.

The drought also continues to threaten the public water supply in Berwick.

Lori Barber’s Berwick home was built in the 1850’s. She said her spring fed well, where she gets her water, is probably just as old.

“It’s the original well,” Barber said. “It’s all brick lined.”

But in the 35 years she’s lived here, she said there’s never been a problem with her water, until now.

“The reason I knew there was something wrong with the water is my fingernails started turning black from just using it every day,” Barber said. “And I left a glass of water in the sink overnight. And when I woke up in the morning it was black.”

Lori Barber’s home backs up to the Salmon Falls River. And her well is likely fed by waters from this river. But people who live here say they have never seen this river this low.

Kurt Colwell said even the old timers can’t remember the river being this low.

“We need some rain,” Colwell said. “That’s about it. I’m lucky. I live over here in Lebanon, but I got city water.”

Only a select few homes in Lebanon get water from Rochester. Most have artesian wells that go hundreds of feet deep into the aquifer. Barber’s well is only 13 feet deep. And right now, we measured only two feet of water in her well.

“The water level is usually a lot higher. And it’s pretty low,” Barber said. “It’s hard to fix meals and do things like that when you have to carry every bit of water that you use.”

Not only is there sediment in the water, likely including manganese and sulfur, it smells awful.

She said she even got sick from drinking the water.

“When I got sick from it, it took me awhile to realize why I was getting sick,” Barber said.

Barber said she can’t afford a new well, leaving her just one option.

“Well, we can only pray for the rain,” Barber said. “I’m not much into the Indian dancing for rain. Don’t know if that would even work these days.”

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