Despite being all around us, water is, at times, a scarce resource.
As reported by The Sentinel’s Meghan Foley last week, as of Thursday, the 56.45 percent of the state considered to be in a moderate drought included all of Cheshire, Sullivan, Hillsborough, Merrimack and Rockingham counties; most of Belknap and Strafford counties; and about half of Grafton County. Many areas in the central and southern parts of the state are behind their normal precipitation totals for the year by 3 to 4 inches. The deficit in some places is as high as 7 inches, according to Tom O’Donovan, director of the water division of the N.H. Department of Environmental Services.
Keene was 3.25 inches below the 21 inches of precipitation it would normally have as of early July. The last substantial drought in New Hampshire was in 2016, O’Donovan said. During that summer, he said, Keene was among the communities likely experiencing an extreme drought.
“We have had a very dry year,” O’Donovan said. This year, he said, has “been drier than when we had the last drought in 2016.”
A big part of the problem isn’t the missing spring and summer downpours. Even when we’ve had those, the water has been sopped up quickly by the ground, as it was during last Wednesday’s gullywasher. The real key to the region’s groundwater is winter; specifically, snow. A mild winter with no snowpack means no spring melt, and thus, no head start for the water table. Keene averages 55 inches of snow a year. Last winter, the city received 51 inches.
This year’s months-long pandemic is contributing as well. Those pools everyone rushed out and bought when they realized they might spend the summer at home with the kids? They’ve been filled, and topped off, repeatedly. With nothing better to do, and wary of potential shortages of food staples, many area residents decided to try their hands at gardening, necessitating watering.
Coincidentally, the city’s largest reservoir, Woodward Pond in Roxbury, has been drained for work on the city’s dam there. Its other primary reservoir, nearby Babbage Pond, is only at about two-thirds capacity now, according to Aaron Costa, operations manager for the public works department.
All in all, it’s been, well, a perfect non-storm.
The City Council’s municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee is recommending a conservation alert, which would ask residents and businesses to work toward a 10 percent reduction in water use.
Keene residents who’ve been asked for months to do without; stay home; stay apart; could be excused for throwing up their hands and shouting “One more thing? Really?”
But as with social distancing measures, the idea is actually pretty simple: A little pain now to avoid worse later. Think of it as an ounce of prevention. After all, if the council enacts the 10 percent water conservation guideline and residents ignore it, it will likely become a 20 percent request. Eventually, it would become a mandated 50 percent restriction.
So conserve. Maybe that lawn looks pretty crisp and brown right now, but it’ll bounce back.