Environmental Groups Call for Leadership and Water Conservation as Drought Worsens

As northeast and central Massachusetts continue to suffer from severe drought, environmental groups call on the Commonwealth and residents throughout Massachusetts to take steps now to conserve water and to manage our freshwater resources better. In a letter to Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton, a coalition of 45 environmental organizations across the state called for a “proactive state-led approach” to water conservation.

In Boston, rainfall is nearly 7 inches below normal. This lack of rain, combined with the lack of snow this winter, is causing aquifer levels to drop and streams to dry up. The Charles River, Ipswich Rivers and many other rivers and streams in eastern Massachusetts are at record low flows. Town water supplies dependent on wells and reservoirs are stressed as groundwater levels drop, temperatures rise and rain is scant. The U.S. Weather Service predicts little summer rain followed by a hotter than normal September.

 The Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, the Charles River Watershed Association and other environmental groups are asking residents and businesses to stop lawn watering during the drought. For gardens, they recommend using a handheld hose or drip irrigation system and to water only in the early morning or evening hours.

“Many Massachusetts communities depend on local water sources, leaving both our water supplies and rivers vulnerable to drought,” said Julia Blatt, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance. “Managing this important resource wisely is critical for our future.”

“Conserving water now is crucial. The choice to use this scarce resource for drinking and firefighting versus green lawns shouldn’t be a close call,” said Charles River Watershed Association Deputy Director and General Counsel Margaret Van Deusen. Eliminating lawn watering can reduce water use by 30%. Dry lawns go dormant but will revive with rain and cooler weather.

In their letter, the group asks the Secretary to institute a public service campaign to educate municipalities and citizens on the importance of halting lawn watering and saving water indoors by running full loads in washing machines and dishwashers, shortening showers and flushing toilets less often. While many towns have instituted water use restrictions in response to the drought, these vary widely and range from voluntary to mandatory restrictions. Odd-even day watering restrictions, for instance, may even have the opposite effect—actually increasing water use. It is more effective to water less often and more deeply so that lawns can adjust. Letting grass grow taller also helps roots grow deeper and retain moisture.

The more water cities and towns must pump to keep up with demand, the less groundwater there is to make its way into the rivers and streams in the summer. Low stream levels, in addition to decimating fish, turtles and other aquatic life, concentrate existing pollution and increase the occurrence of toxic algal blooms.

 The letter also urges Secretary Beaton to review the current Massachusetts Drought Management Plan and to issue backlogged water withdrawal permits which under regulations adopted in 2014 will include more effective water conservation requirements. The letter also asks the Commonwealth to support and incentivize building green infrastructure, such as rain gardens, bio-retention swales and constructed wetlands, which capture rainwater and slowly infiltrate it back into the ground to replenish aquifers. The municipal stormwater general permit issued by US EPA and MassDEP this spring will help increase the use of green infrastructure. View the full text of the letter atmassriversalliance.org.

 About the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance

Mass Rivers’ mission is to protect and restore the Commonwealth’s rivers and streams. Founded by a group of leading river advocates in 2007, Mass Rivers has 63 organizational members, and works statewide with many partners to restore stream flow, reduce water pollution, and improve waterways for habitat and recreation.

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