U.S. Water News Online
BROWNFIELD, Maine (AP) -- Carol Noonan knew the drought was
bad when she ran out of water in the middle of her shower and had to
rinse her soapy hair with the only water around -- in her dog's
After their 15-foot-deep well ran dry, Noonan and her husband let
their dirty dishes pile up and started using paper plates. They
stopped using their clothes washer and dishwasher. They recycled by
dumping water from their pasta pot into the toilet tank.
The Noonans are among thousands of Maine residents whose wells
have run dry or slowed to a trickle because of a severe drought
gripping the state -- and much of the country. It's so bad the
Federal Emergency Management Agency is considering making Maine the
first state ever to receive disaster funds for a drought.
Nationwide, droughts now cover about a third of the country,
cutting huge swaths from Maine to Georgia in the East, and from
Montana to Texas in the West.
Recent rains and snow have provided a respite for some in Maine.
But forecasters warn that precipitation must run well above normal
for several months to bring the state out of a drought that is the
worst in 107 years of record-keeping.
In a state with thousands of lakes and rivers and an ocean full of
water lapping at the coast, Maine residents are accustomed to
plentiful water. The state gets more than 40 inches of rain a year;
there are 7,000 rivers and 5 million acres of wetlands; and the
state's 5,785 lakes and ponds cover an area larger than Rhode Island.
Getting that water to the tap isn't as easy as it sounds given
that about 280,000 Maine households, or roughly 45 percent of the
state, get water from wells instead of a public system. Of those,
about 53,000 are shallow-water wells that are only 10 to 20 feet deep
and most susceptible to drying up.
Peter Mead of Brownfield, who uses a shallow well, thought his
pump had gone bad when his tap ran dry in January. Wells run dry in
the summer, he thought, not in the heart of winter.
Now he fills a pickup truck load of containers with water from
town and transfers them to three plastic garbage cans in his front
hallway. This is the household water for cooking, cleaning, and the
To shower, Mead, 50, stands in a washtub-like receptacle and pours
water heated on his wood stove over his head. The three children who
still live at home shower at friends' houses.
"This is my water system right now," Mead said sadly as he looked
at the garbage cans in his front hall. "You gotta do what you gotta
do, I guess."
Only, he hasn't a clue what he might do next.
Even if the federal government issues low-interest loans to drill
new wells, he doesn't know how he would afford it -- he's recovering
from back surgery and isn't working these days.
"Four or five thousand dollars? I don't have it," he said. "I
don't think many people do."
Here in Brownfield, a town of 1,251 on the New Hampshire border,
there are a number of signs that the months ahead could be tough
Vicki Coffee, who is used to having standing water in her basement
because of spring showers and melting snow, said her basement is dry.
So are the woods across from her house, which are normally a
knee-deep quagmire come spring. The Saco River, which cuts through
town, is lower and flatter than usual.
Noonan and her husband, Jeffrey Flagg, recently bought two
100-gallon water tanks to keep in reserve, and are optimistic about
having water in the months ahead. Of course, they felt the same way
last summer when they first ran out.
Having occasionally gone days without showers or fresh clothes,
Noonan has learned a new appreciation of water. She's also learned
"You lose a lot of shame," Noonan said.
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