A view of Pearce Brook in Houlton, with water level significantly reduced as an effect of the drought afflicting Aroostook County. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

The federal government has declared Aroostook County a “drought disaster” area as the region faces a prolonged dry spell.

This summer was one of the driest on record for The County — which has been placed under a severe drought status known as D2 — brought on by low soil moisture, lack of rainfall, drying vegetation and low stream flows.

The designation is given to areas experiencing severe droughts for eight consecutive weeks or a higher level drought intensity value for any period of time. Water levels in Aroostook and Penobscot rivers reached an all-time low earlier this year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The only other drought in Maine as severe as this was nearly 20 years ago — from 2001 to 2002.

“We have over 150 years of records at [the Penobscot water monitoring] location,” Nick Stasulis, the geological survey’s data section chief, told The Houlton Pioneer Times earlier this month. “So certainly that is a significant data set when you’re looking at the historical perspective.”

Due to the severe drought conditions, farmers in Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset and Washington counties are eligible for emergency assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Farmers have eight months from the date of a disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans from the USDA. The Farm Service Agency considers the extent of production losses on the farm and the operator’s security and repayment ability in reviewing emergency loan applications.

These emergency loans can be used to restore or replace “essential property,” pay off production costs accrued during the disaster year, cover family living expenses, reorganize farming operations and refinance debts, the agency said.

Other services such as the Livestock Forage Program, Emergency Livestock Assistance Program, the Emergency Conservation Program and the Non-insurable Crop Assistance Program are also available to farmers in counties in a severe drought.

Farmers in need of hay for their livestock can use the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Hay Directory, too.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry also encourages farmers to plan for future droughts by upgrading their water supplies and improving soil. Farmers should contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District or local Natural Resources Conservation Service for help with soil health practices.