It may come as a surprise after two back-to-back days of rain, but Rhode Island is currently in a historic drought. According to the United States Drought Monitor, Rhode Island began experiencing its most intense period of drought in 20 years on September 29th.
Due to a combination of below average rainfall and above average temperatures for an extended period this year, 99.02% of the state is being affected by Extreme Drought (D3) conditions. The criteria for Extreme Drought (D3) include:
- Crop loss is widespread; Christmas tree farms are stressed; dairy farmers are struggling financially
- Well drillers and bulk water haulers see increased business
- Water recreation and hunting are modified; wildlife disease outbreak is observed
- Extremely reduced flow to ceased flow of water is observed; river temperatures are warm; wells are running dry; people are digging more and deeper wells
On Thursday, October 8th, the Rhode Island Drought Management Steering Committee, a group of federal, state and local experts that falls under the purview of the Water Resources Board, met to review data on four indicators of drought: precipitation, the Palmer Drought Severity Index, stream flow, and groundwater.
While the group anticipated the occurrence of this week’s rain event – the result of the remnants of Hurricane Delta passing through – the wet weather is not enough to end the drought.
“No amount of rain we get [this] week will make up for it,” said Kathleen Crawley, acting general manager of the Rhode Island Water Resources Board.
Crawley noted that Rhode Island experienced drought conditions classified as “severe” in 2016, but said the state has not had “extreme” drought conditions in many years. Crawley said Rhode Island’s “drought of record” – a term used to refer to the worst recorded drought since compilation of meteorologic and hydrologic data began – occurred in the 1960s and led to the formation of the Rhode Island Water Resources Coordinating Board and the state’s purchase of the Big River Management Area. .
In addition to agricultural impacts, another major area of concern for officials during the drought is wildfires. This summer, local and state firefighters responded to about 100 wildfires throughout the parched state. Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management issued a press release at the end of September warning of extreme fire danger and urging residents to apply the principles of Firewise home maintenance and landscaping to reduce the risk of fire and exposure to their homes and property.
At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, the Rhode Island Drought Management Steering Committee voted to renew the Drought Advisory that Governor Gina Raimondo issued on September 17th. The committee will meet again next week to review the latest data.
Crawley and Meredith Brady Associate Director of the Division of Planning at Rhode Island Department of Administration, said residents can take a number of actions to help conserve water, such as:
- Fix leaky pipes and faucets and update old/leaky appliances like washing machines
- Run full loads of laundry and dishes and avoiding extended cycles on washing machines
- Don’t overwater your lawn – the average requires just an inch of water per week.
Stay up to date on the drought and any restrictions in your area with these resources:
- List of water suppliers across the state: http://www.wrb.ri.gov/data_watersuppliers.html
- Water Resources Board: http://www.wrb.ri.gov/aboutus_board.html
- U.S. Drought Monitor: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap.aspx