U.S. Water News Online
NORTHWOOD, N.H. -- Until recently, Robert Madison didn't
worry much about his water well. The 20-foot well provided just
enough for his family of 12.
Then it, and much of the country, began to dry up. Since last
summer, the Madison family has had to cut showers short and use metal
cans to cart drinking water into the home from a nearby spring.
Now he is one of hundreds of New Hampshire residents waiting out
the second-wo rst drought in state history.
``I'm telling the kids it's time to take spit showers,'' he joked.
``The teen-agers don't like that.''
State officials say that since the drought began late last summer,
thousands of dug wells such as Madison's have gone dry.
Dug wells are relatively shallow wells, and rely on groundwater 15
or 20 feet below the surface. Most modern wells are drilled and can
go down hundreds and even thousands of feet.
Despite its near-record duration and severity, the drought came on
slowly, state climatologist Barry Keim said. But it still could have
Keim and other state officials warn that by spring and summer,
when water demand spikes, already low groundwater, river, lake and
reservoir levels could face critical shortages.
Part of the reason the drought sneaked up on the state is that
last summer there was just enough rain to keep most people from
noticing that things were drying out, Keim said. And it has worsened
since winter set in.
``When you have a drought in the summer, the effects are more
noticeable,'' he said. ``People see plants and grass dying. But in
the winter, no one notices anything is going on -- until their well
But state officials have noticed. All but two of the state's 24
groundwater monitoring wells are at record lows, said Jim Gallagher
of the state Department of Environmental Services.
The wells are part of a state and federal program and were
installed in 1966 after the state's worst drought.
The drying of rivers and streams poses problems for cities and
towns, many of which rely on them to fill their municipal reservoirs.
One of Hanover's three reservoirs already is 70 percent below
capacity. The town is talking with neighboring Lebanon about buying
water if the drought doesn't ease before summer.
In winter, Manchester's reservoir, Lake Massabesic, typically is
about two feet below summer levels. This year it is 3 1/2 feet below
those levels, according to Tom Bowen, director of Manchester's water
He said the reservoir normally refills in autumn when city water
``Usually in October, November and December we get 10 inches of
water,'' he said. ``This year we got three and a half inches.''
And the relatively dry winter isn't helping. When spring comes,
there will be little snow to melt and refill the lake.
Most municipal water departments say it is still too soon to enact
water use bans, though Merrimack officials asked residents this month
to conserve water to avoid a more severe problem later.
For farmers, the impact of the drought has yet to hit, though some
perennial crops, such as apple trees and berry bushes, could be
damaged because there is little snow cover to protect their roots
Wildlife experts say fish populations could be harmed and
endangered plants and animals threatened. Some small streams will not
be stocked with trout this spring if their water levels don't return
Low water also makes it easier for predators, including raccoons
and muskrats, to eat the dwarf wedge mussel, which is on the federal
list of endangered species, said Susi Von Oettingen, a U.S. Fish and
The mussels live in the Ashuelot River in southwestern New
Boaters also will have problems if the drought doesn't turn
around. Lake Winnipesaukee is at a record low level, some 34 inches
below its summer level.
If it doesn't refill, state Fish and Game officials said boaters
will encounter reefs and rocks that aren't on maps, and some boat
launching ramps will be unusable.
But so far, shallow residential wells, such as the Madisons', are
the hardest hit. Well drilling companies have waiting lists of 1 1/2
months or longer. One drilling company salesman said he recently told
a potential customer he couldn't promise he would get to him before
In Brookline, Anthony Crowe has had his dug well refilled by
tanker trucks several times since the drought began. He has hooked
his house's rain gutters to the well with a hose and has contemplated
shoveling snow into it.
``You get quite inventive,'' he said.
The unemployed stone mason is debating whether drilling a deeper
well, at a cost he said would approach $10,000, is worth it.
``Last month I would have said yes,'' he said. Since then, his
well water level has returned a bit with the modest precipitation and
snow melt in January.
``Maybe it's just one of those things you have to put up with in
the country, like dirt roads,'' he said.
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