Drought task force says most of state in ‘critical’ shape

SHERBORN, Mass. — Ninety six percent of Sherborn residents depend on wells for water — but lately, a few of those holes have been failing.

“I know our Board of Health has gotten calls from last month or two six or seven homeowners whose wells have gone dry,” said Tom Trainor, a volunteer with Sherborn’s Groundwater Protection Committee. “It’s very expensive and you have to apply to the Board of Health for a permit. It’s quite an inconvenience if your well runs dry.”

Those wells ran dry in Sherborn because the ongoing drought is taking a toll on groundwater supplies.

While the town doesn’t have water restrictions in place — there is now a large sign at the intersection of Routes 27 and 16, advising residents of a “Severe Drought Warning” — in the hopes they will conserve well water.

“We used to take into consideration that we had plenty of water — quantity and quality,” Trainor said. “But we really can’t take that as a given any longer. We have fifteen hundred buildings, residences, businesses... public buildings. That’s fifteen hundred straws in the ground — all pulling from the same groundwater, the same aquifer.”

Trainor was one of dozens of interested parties who tuned into a mid-month meeting of the state’s Drought Management Task Force. The virtual meeting was held one day after many regions in the state saw significant rainfall for the first time this month. One clear message from the meeting: that rainfall may have helped — but certainly not enough to reverse the many weeks of intense heat and dry weather.

In fact, the Task Force is recommending moving the Cape into the same drought status as the rest of eastern and central Massachusetts — Level 3 or Critical Drought. The group is also recommending Western Massachusetts’ drought status be elevated to Severe.

One of the data points driving those recommendations: streamflows. With a score of 75 considered “normal,” some major rivers in Massachusetts, before the rain, were at 0 — including parts of the Neponset, Ipswich, Charles and North Nashua.

“Some of them are literally dry,” said Katharine Lange, policy specialist for the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance. “You know we have those cracked earth scenes that you associate with maybe Nevada... California. But in fact, they’re happening here in Massachusetts.”

The Alliance showed some of those “cracked earth” scenes to the Task Force — using pictures sent in by volunteers. One showed the Blackstone River so dry, in parts, that kayakers had to walk their boats between puddles. Other photos showed a river in Ware reduced to a mere marsh — and the grandly named Roaring Brook Falls in Leverett neither roaring nor falling.

“The impacts to aquatic wildlife are devastating,” Lange said. “In places where streams are dry, there is literally no habitat for a fish. And that also impacts the species on land that would rely on those fish, for example, as their food source.”

Of course, streams and rivers drying up impact humans, as well.

Trainor notes that Sherborn’s Fire Department relies on hydrants that are connected via piping to streams and small ponds.

“If the hydrant down the street from my house is connected to a dry stream, the fire department has to go thousands of feet longer,” he said.

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