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Drought declarations in Massachusetts (and elsewhere) are based upon a number of considerations detailed in the state’s Drought Plan and are driven by much more than short term precipitation amounts. Even a large rainfall in a short duration may do very little to recharge our aquifers. During the summer months, for example, most precipitation becomes either soil moisture that returns to the atmosphere through evaporation through the soil and plants, or becomes surface runoff that ends up in streams and rivers. So, we should be happy for the rain (and turn off our irrigation systems).
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Currently, the Town of Dover has no authority (neither its Board of Selectmen nor its Board of Health) to regulate the amount of water usage associated with private wells. Unlike many other towns, Dover has not approved any regulations or bylaws that allow for enforcement of recommended water conservation activities during normal times or during state-declared drought conditions. Massachusetts General Law Ch. 21 Section 67 specifies that 1. irrigation systems include a moisture sensor to shut off systems during and immediately after rain events and 2. registration of systems with the Town which would provide a means of communicating with and educating irrigation system users. However, these regulations have not been implemented in Dover.
At present, the Massachusetts Department of Protection (MassDEP) regulates all Public Water Suppliers (PWSs), like the Colonial Water Company, that has a permit through the Water Management Act (WMA) to pump water. That permit limits the amount of water that the PWS can withdraw from the aquifer and also requires that the companies develop and implement a water conservation program. However, there is little if any enforcement of the permit terms.
There is a statewide Drought Management Task Force that is under the authority of the Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (MAOEEA) and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). The Drought Management Task Force meets frequently during the summer months to assess the condition of water supplies in the state. It then recommends that the Secretary issue various declarations of level of drought situations in the state and ask citizens to adjust their behavior accordingly.
The Dover Board of Health attends the meetings of the Drought Management Task Force and then recommends that Dover residents adjust their water conservation practices voluntarily according to the severity of the drought.
The Dover Board of Health communicates its recommendations for additional water conservation actions using the various social media platforms focused on Dover (e.g., Town of Dover website, the Town of Dover Facebook page, NextDoor), electronic message boards, and signage around town. Colonial Water Company customers should expect to receive communication directly from the company on general conservation activities and specific emergency declarations.
Water use restrictions are especially recommended during seasonal peak demand periods (May-September) due to the impact of irrigation systems on water usage. When MassDEP declares a drought warning or drought emergency, dedicated informational signs are placed throughout the town.
If you are interested in subscribing to the BOH or general Dover newsflash opt-in email system and are not currently registered, you can opt-in by using the following link: https://www.doverma.gov/list.aspx
The Drought Management Plan was published in September 2019 with a goal to prepare for and respond to drought conditions in 7 regions within the state. Dover is in the Southeast Region. The drought categories are based on several data indices and address nonessential outdoor watering.
Private well users are requested to voluntarily adhere to the restrictions as well as the customers of Public Water Suppliers like the Colonial Water Company.
The levels and restrictions are:
• Level 0 Normal
• Level 1 Mild Drought: 1 day/week watering 5pm - 9am
• Level 2 Significant Drought: watering limited to hand-held hoses or watering cans and only between 5pm - 9am
• Level 3 Critical Drought: ban on all nonessential outdoor water use
• Level 4 Emergency Drought: ban on all nonessential outdoor water use
It is estimated that lawn and landscaping irrigation account for over half of all household water consumption during the months from May through September. While all residents should adopt water conservation methods both indoors and outside throughout the year, saving water during the summer is as simple as turning off your irrigation system and/or adjusting it to use much less water. The watering of gardens, flowerbeds and trees can be accomplished by use of a bucket, spring-loaded spray nozzle, or micro/drip irrigation.
Per state regulations (MGL Ch.21.67), irrigation systems should include a programmable controller that automatically manages the flow and timing of water use, and a moisture sensing device to automatically shut off systems based upon rain events. New smart wifi-based controllers can be monitored and managed remotely by either you or your irrigation provider from a smart phone, tablet, or computer. These devices are promoted to reduce water consumption by about 30%.
Outdoor watering is most efficient between 5pm and 9am. Sunlight significantly increases evaporation, meaning that water that was intended to reach your lawn is lost to the air. Dover recommends outdoor watering between the hours of 5am-7am to maximize uptake and limit the amount of residual surface moisture, which can leave your plants susceptible to mold.
You can also mow your lawn at a taller height, plant native shrubs and trees, use drip irrigation, and use a rain barrel to collect water (available at the Dover Transfer Station and at the Dover Town Garage).
All tree and shrub plantings and new lawns should be planted in the spring or fall to avoid irrigation during the summer months when water use should be limited. In addition, plants native to the region can be used in your landscape design to reduce watering needs.
According to the EPA, the two most water- wasting categories in a house are leaks and inefficient products. High efficiency toilets, dishwashers, clothes washers, aerators, and other low flow devices are effective in conserving water. Just like there are products labelled Energy Saver, there are WaterSense faucets, showerheads, toilets, etc. that have been certified as water reducers by the EPA. Look for these products when buying new and take a look at the provided links for tips on evaluating your indoor water use and improving your water conservation.