U.S. Water News Online
TRENTON, N.J. -- A drought warning has been issued for 251
towns in 13 counties along the Delaware River and the coast for the
first time in more than two years.
The warning carries no mandatory restrictions, but state
environmental officials asked residents and businesses in affected
areas to curb unnecessary water use and practice conservation.
Individual municipalities are permitted to establish their own water
restrictions regardless of what the state does.
It rained less than an inch in all of October, which has a normal
rainfall of about 3 inches. The state is now 7 inches or more below
average annual rainfall. Less than 1.5 inches of rain have fallen
statewide since Oct. 1, compared with an average of 6 inches,
according to state climatologist Dave Robinson. Rainfall has been
below average in 11 of the last 13 months.
``Over a year, that's starting to amount to something,'' Robinson
said. ``But it's been sneaky.''
It has rained less than one-third of an inch so far in November,
according to Loretta O'Donnell, a spokeswoman for the state
Department of Environmental Protection.
``Traditionally in the winter we get more precipitation and
reservoirs refill,'' O'Donnell said. ``By now, normally we would be
seeing 4 inches of rain this month.''
The warning covers parts of Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape
May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean,
Salem, Sussex and Warren counties. It came in response to low
reservoir levels at the Delaware River's headwaters in the Catskills
in New York state.
Areas of New Jersey not covered by the warning rely on aquifers
and reservoirs in the central and northeastern part of the state that
still have enough water.
A drought warning allows the state Department of Environmental
Protection to control water distribution and transfers among major
reservoirs, and to modify water allocations temporarily.
The next action, if water levels continue to drop, would be a
drought emergency issued by the governor. Such an emergency, which
has not been issued since August 1999, allows the state to set
mandatory water restrictions where necessary.
New Jersey last issued a drought warning in 1999 after a hot
summer and almost no rain for five months. Since that time,
additional stream and groundwater level monitors have been installed.
O'Donnell said stream levels are down as much as 20 percent in
parts of the state. Groundwater levels are in better shape, she said,
but are being watched closely.
``On the positive side, if you're going to be sliding into a
drought this is the best time of year because consumption is down,''
Robinson said, adding that swimming pools tend to be drained, lawns
are not watered and water does not evaporate as quickly.
It could take a year of above-average rainfall to alleviate the
problem, Robinson said. Even if New Jersey has average precipitation
for the rest of the year, it will be the driest year since 1965.
The DEP has scheduled public hearings for Dec. 4 in Westfield and
Dec. 5 in Moorestown to seek comment on the warning and possible
water-related actions in the future.
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