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No one wants it, no one thinks about it until it happens

Brown grass, dry streams, low pond and lake levels, dry wells, dry woodlands, wildfire concerns, water restrictions… limits on water which we all take for granted in New England.

Although historically the Seacoast area has enjoyed apparently abundant water supplies, increasing population and increasing use of water are pushing the limits of our water supplies. In 1999-2001 Maine and New Hampshire suffered the worst drought in 30 years, which forcefully demonstrated our vulnerability to water shortages. During this period, many private wells went dry and a number of water systems required water conservation measures. Our normally abundant water supplies are closely tied to the normal abundant rainfall that occurs relatively uniformly throughout the year. 

Most recharge of surface and groundwater supplies occurs each spring when the snowmelt occurs and water either runs off into lakes and ponds or percolates into shallow aquifers. During the growing season little recharge occurs as most precipitation is either used by plants or evaporates. Minimum groundwater levels and minimum stream flow naturally occurs in late summer and early fall.

Unfortunately this is the period of most intensive human use especially in tourist and summer communities. The transient population is at its peak and water use for gardening and recreation peaks. Communities that draw water from small surface watershed (such as York, Kittery and Portsmouth) or small sand-and-gravel aquifers, are especially vulnerable. Development of backup sources, recharge and water efficiency are practical measures to reduce the impact of drought on our communities and lives.

Both communities and individuals can improve water efficiency by taking simple measures, such as installing low-flow plumbing fixtures and efficient irrigation systems. Water infiltration can be maximized by installing permeable driveways, minimizing lawn area and detaining runoff in rain gardens wherever possible.

On a community level, stormwater management systems should be designed to minimize runoff by limiting impervious surfaces and maximizing infiltration, as well as returning treated wastewater to the watershed rather than exporting it.

The Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm, Wells, Maine Copyright 2006 All rights reserved. Collaboration with NOAA CSC, Charleston SC