Fields are covered with flowering potato plants near Fort Fairfield in this July 19, 2020, file photo. Credit: David Sharp / AP

MADAWASKA, Maine — The Crown of Maine has been reduced to moderate drought status while other parts of Aroostook County and the state go into their ninth week of severe drought.

While the Maine Drought Task Force is monitoring the worsening situation throughout most of Maine, recent rains allowed the Crown of Maine — mainly the St. John Valley and part of Washington County — to drop from a severe to a moderate drought status. Experts say the moisture didn’t come soon enough to help blueberries, potatoes or hay crops. But the task force sees the recent rain as a temporary reprieve, even though there is no significant rain predicted for the near future.

The severe drought status is characterized by low moisture in the soil and lack of widespread rainfall, drying vegetation and low stream flows, according to the National Weather Service report.

Heavy rainfall on Aug. 29 was credited with reducing the Crown of Maine’s drought from severe to moderate, according to Corey Bogel, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Caribou.

Tom Gordon, policy and planning coordinator for the Office of the Commissioner for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said that while conditions improved in the St. John Valley and much of Washington County, it’s too late to help with the wild blueberry harvest.

“The area of severe drought has dropped by 10 percent,” Gordon said. “However, Houlton has a rainfall deficit of 8 inches below normal and Caribou is about 5 inches below normal.”

Southern and central Aroostook areas’ struggles with the severe drought will be to the detriment of the final weeks of potato growth, he said.

“At [Thursday’s] Drought Task Force meeting, the National Weather Service was not optimistic about any significant rainfall in the near future,” Gordon said.

The Maine Drought Task Force met Thursday to discuss the worsening drought conditions statewide. The U.S. Geological Survey said the surface water levels in Aroostook County have improved, but groundwater levels have not changed, according to the task force.

With groundwater below average, the water levels in streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and wetlands are low and have been below August median levels since June, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Farmers cannot legally use streams and rivers whose flows are below August median levels for irrigation of crops without the department’s permission, officials said last month. Improper water management can lead to dried up streams and rivers and fish kills.

The Drought Task Force said the USDA Farm Service Agency reported negative impact on crops including potato, blueberry and cover crops in Aroostook County.

Tuesday marked the start of week nine for the parts of the state that are in a severe drought. At the end of eight consecutive weeks of that status several USDA programs are available to help farmers, ranchers and small businesses.

The task force also said that public water systems are experiencing drought-related water quantity and quality issues statewide. Some municipalities are taking steps to modify operations to accommodate low water, and some are requesting that customers conserve water voluntarily.

In addition, the Maine Emergency Management Agency has received reports of dry wells in Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties, which are primarily residential dug wells.

“Conditions may worsen over the next seven days statewide due to below normal rainfall and a continued trend of above normal temperatures,” Tom Hawley of the National Weather Service said.