OP-ED | Drought in Connecticut? Getting Smart About Water Use

SUSAN BIGELOW

I was driving through farmland this weekend, a few miles from the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts, when I saw a thick fog covering the road. It wasn’t fog; the sun was bright and hot, and the sky clear. Instead, it was a cloud of dust blowing from the nearby fields, stirred by strong winds.

It’s been a hot, dry summer, okay.

In mid-July, Governor Lamont approved a recommendation from the Interinstitutional Working Group on Drought declare all eight counties in the state to be in “Stage 2” drought conditions. This isn’t something that should raise alarm bells, not yet. It’s more of a warning, a warning that it’s been much drier than usual, and a warning that we might need to get serious about restricting water use if conditions worsen.

Things haven’t improved since then, unfortunately. Eastern Connecticut is in a “severe drought” state, according to the US Drought Monitor, while much of the rest of the state is in “moderate drought” or “abnormally dry.”

US Drought Monitor data for Connecticut, August 5, 2022.US Drought Monitor data for Connecticut, August 5, 2022. Credit: Screenshot / Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation CenterUS Drought Monitor data for Connecticut, July 28, 2022.US Drought Monitor data for Connecticut, July 28, 2022. Credit: Screenshot / Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation CenterUS Drought Monitor data for Connecticut, July 19, 2022.US Drought Monitor data for Connecticut, July 19, 2022. Credit: Screenshot / Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation CenterUS Drought Monitor data for Connecticut, July 12, 2022.US Drought Monitor data for Connecticut, July 12, 2022. Credit: Screenshot / Brian Fuchs, National Drought Mitigation Center

We don’t think about drought here in Connecticut. We are blessed with an abundance of rainfall as well as many creeks, streams and rivers that never run dry. We think of drought as a Western problem, something that happens in sun-dried Arizona and Southern California. We see overwhelming news record low water levels in Lake Mead, where much of the desert southwest gets its water, and we thank our lucky stars it’s not happening here.

But changing weather patterns, such as more hot days in summer and less snowfall in winter, are still having a serious impact on our own water supply. This can change life here in big and small ways. For example, on Monday the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued a emergency stop to fishing near the tributaries of the Farmington River. The reason is that the lack of rain and stubbornly warm temperatures we’ve had over the past two weeks have made the water in Farmington too warm for the trout swimming in it, and they’re congregating near the cooler waters that fall the streams that feed the river. DEEP ordered the shutdown to protect those now vulnerable populations.

This may seem like a small thing, it’s not worth mentioning. But what effect will it have if this happens year after year? There will be fewer fish that can live in the river, and this will have a knock-on effect on all other wildlife nearby. If the bears can’t get enough food from the local stream, for example, your trash barrel will start to look pretty tasty.

Also, small problems can turn into big problems quickly if we are not careful. Prolonged periods of moderate to severe drought could deplete the reservoirs and groundwater we depend on, and increase risk of dangerous flash floods.

As the climate changes, we must begin to prepare for scenarios that previously seemed impossible.

This is the future, though. What does a “stage 2” drought warning mean for us right now? Should we drag out the rain barrels and stop flushing the toilet? No, definitely not. Please wash. It’s still not Mad Max.

But we should start thinking about smart ways to use the water we have. I’m not saying you should stop watering your lawn and replace everything with moss or some other greener ground cover…although if you do, that would be great! Lawns are a huge waste of resources, and I don’t think that’s just because I hate mowing mine. Perhaps, as a compromise, you could turn on the sprinklers one less day per week.

What other ways can we think of to save a little more water? Would a shower that was a minute shorter be so bad? What about slightly larger loads of laundry or if you don’t leave the faucet running when you’re not using it? It’s small things, but they add up. And when we face a more severe drought, we will already have these saving habits.

And saving is the key. As Yankees, we love to be thrifty, and I know we can apply the natural stinginess we get from our ancestors to our water use. Don’t think of it as environmentally friendly, think of it as putting one on the water company. You’re not saving the planet, you’re saving a few bucks!

So let’s try to be smart about water use, for the sake of the future. Oh, and for the sake of your wallet, too. It’s worth doing.

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