The entire state of Maine is now enduring a moderate- to severe state of drought for the first time in 18 years.
According to a map released online Thursday by the United States Drought Monitor, an organization consisting of several federal agencies and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, vast chunks of Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Washington and York counties are in severe drought. Moderate drought covers the rest of the state.
The drought conditions have had an obvious impact on Maine. Private well owners were complaining of their wells going dry in late June. More than 75 percent of the state was in moderate drought in early August. Parts of Aroostook County were in severe drought at that time, although heavy rains late last month moderated conditions briefly. Farmers’ crops don’t grow fully in drought conditions and the lack of rainfall has contributed to the outbreak of harmful or deadly algae blooms in several Maine bodies of water.
Blooms of toxic algae, likely fortified by dog feces, forced South Portland to close two ponds in Hinckley Park in July for the second year in a row and were also reported in a portion of Damariscotta Lake in August. Portland’s East End Beach closed for a weekend in July after a wastewater spill of undetermined size into Casco Bay from the East End water treatment plant.
Climate change that increases summertime temperatures and drought conditions helps create the blooms more frequently. The lack of rainwater allows ponds, lakes and rivers to warm above typical temperatures, helping algae to grow.
People needing to conserve water have many options: you can take shorter and less frequent showers; if you don’t have a low volume toilet, put a plastic bottle filled with water or brick in the toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used per flush; run your dishwasher only when it’s full; look for and repair any leaks in pipes; reduce or completely eliminate water used for recreation, such as filling pools or running the sprinkler for children to run through; and when possible, have water delivered from a reputable business for non-potable use.
Meteorologist Michael Clair of the National Weather Service in Gray told the Sun Journal that Maine hasn’t experienced drought like this since summer 2002. And the weather forecasts aren’t promising. Some parts of Maine might get showers and thunderstorms over the next few weeks, but not enough to reverse conditions, he said.
Only several good steady rainfalls or a large tropical storm would likely improve conditions, he said.