A comparison of the level of drought in Massachusetts on March 7, 2017 (left), and Dec. 27, 2016 (right). Image courtesy United States Drought Monitor

NATURE’S TURN: Severe drought persists – prepare the garden’s water works

When I posited that harvesting rainwater and conserving water use is in order, Brian Fuchs of the National Drought Mitigation Center countered, “Conservation should be practiced all the time. We don’t know when a drought might be on the horizon.”

March 13 – 26, 2017

Mt. Washington — Even though there’s been some rain and snow, including a few memorable downpours in late autumn followed by a blizzard and a torrential rain this winter, the drought designation for most of western Massachusetts and the border towns hasn’t budged from “severe drought.” Concern for the status of private wells, public water supplies and, by extension, available water for the growing season compelled me to telephone the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. I wanted to be sure I was reading the United States Drought Monitor maps correctly.

Image courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor
Image courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor

The maps and narratives, updated every Thursday, are the work of the NDMC, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). I was pleased and somewhat amazed when geoscientist/climatologist Brian Fuchs answered his phone and gave his complete attention to my inquiry. Amazed because the transfer of knowledge is of great value and here it was freely given. This is a testament to our nation’s respect for each individual and the importance placed on investing in an informed citizenry.

I learned from Mr. Fuchs that drought designations are based on “40 to 50 unique indicators that cover the last week out to the last several years.” These indicators include long-term precipitation deficits and the measure of water levels in wells, streams and rivers as well as the charging of groundwater, subsoil and deep underground aquifers. “Severe drought” indicates a 1 in 10 year event. Fuchs explained, “A top 10 event would mean that it is likely to only happen once every ten years or 10 times in 100 years of records.”

Image courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor
Image courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor

Fuchs offered that there’s very low water demand now but we’re vulnerable as the growing season begins. When I posited that harvesting rainwater and conserving water use is in order, he countered, “Conservation should be practiced all the time. We don’t know when a drought might be on the horizon.” In essence, we are stewards of our part of the watershed.

Please access the resources that follow to begin or augment your water conservation and rainwater collection efforts.

Sources & Resources

Drought Monitor:
https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/RegionalDroughtMonitor.aspx?northeast
https://www.drought.gov/drought/massachusetts

Hudson River Watershed:
https://www.mass.gov/eea/waste-mgnt-recycling/water-resources/preserving-water-resources/mass-watersheds/hudson-river-watershed.html

Image courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor
Image courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor

Housatonic River Watershed:
https://www.mass.gov/eea/waste-mgnt-recycling/water-resources/preserving-water-resources/mass-watersheds/housatonic-river-watershed.html

Rainwater conservation and collection:
https://ag.umass.edu/fact-sheets/rainwater-harvesting
https://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Rainwater-Collection-System
https://gardenwatersaver.com/

Massachusetts-proposed incentive for purchase of water conserving plants and items: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/189/House/H2679, Gailanne.Cariddi@mahouse.gov

Grey water tips and retrofits:
https://www.thisoldhouse.com/ideas/water-lawn-your-saturday-night-bath
https://www.treehugger.com/green-home/how-reuse-grey-water-home-and-yard.html
https://www.latimes.com/home/la-hm-realist30-2009may30-story.html
https://challengeforsustainability.org/toolkit/water-efficiency/graywater/

Watershed approach to landscapes:
https://greengardensgroup.com/watershed-approach-to-landscaping/

Image courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor
Image courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor

Opportunities to Participate

from Becky Cushing, Director, Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries, “We have a lot of upcoming programs…. We also have job openings for paid educators and a paid wildlife technician. This spring we have volunteer day opportunities and… our 24-hour birdathon to support our bird and other education programs. https://www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/pleasant-valley

Register for superb gardening seminars – Ward’s Nursery 2017 Open House: https://wardsnursery.com/spring-classes/