Upper Valley extends summer dry spell as most of NH, Vt. deemed ‘abnormally dry’

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    At a new house site in Canaan, N.H., Skip White, left, and Rick White of Valley Artesian Wells work on a well on Friday, July 8, 2022. Currently considered "abnormally dry" by the U.S. Drought Monitor, this time last summer the Upper Valley was in a more severe drought, which was an extension of a drought declared the summer before that. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2022 9:25:16 PM
Modified: 7/8/2022 9:25:11 PM

ASCUTNEY — The Upper Valley is settling into a summer drought.

Much of Vermont and western New Hampshire were classified as “abnormally dry” — the most moderate drought designation — by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal monitoring agency, in the last week of June. The eastern half of New Hampshire was declared to be in a “moderate drought,” a more severe classification, on Tuesday.

“We were just hanging on through all of May and most of June, and then these dry, hot events pushed us over the edge,” said Ted Diers, administrator of New Hampshire’s Watershed Management Bureau.

Last July, the Upper Valley was in a more severe drought, which was an extension of a drought declared the summer of 2020.

“Back then, we had racked up a big water deficit,” hydrologist for the Vermont Watershed Management Division Blaine Hastings said. “It really took more water for us to come out of that drought.”

But while less rain than last summer will likely be required to get us out of this current drought, it’s increasingly less certain where that water will come from.

And more water isn’t always the simplest solution to the problems that can arise from dry spells.

“What we’re lacking right now are normal, episodic precipitation events,” Diers said.

Instead of the typical “1-, 1½-inch rainstorms we would normally get every couple of weeks,” Diers said, the area might have to experience some significant precipitation, like that which comes with tropical storms and hurricanes, to withdraw from drought.

While sporadic, intense rainfall can pull the region out of drought, it doesn’t necessarily return water systems to normal. This inconsistency can be difficult to weather for industries that depend on a reliable water table.

Ken White, owner of Valley Artesian Well and president of the Vermont Groundwater Association, said his clients who have wells pulling from surface water are more vulnerable to their well running dry in a drought.

On the flip side, when a lot of rain falls in a short period of time, high rates of surface water runoff mean that groundwater levels are also less stable.

“On a regular basis every year, we’re drilling deeper bedrock wells to get into more secure water for people,” White said.

“This year is very much a concern to us. Just looking at the brooks and the rivers, the water table is way down already, and it’s very early in the summer.”

Ben Nelson, who runs Beaver Pond Farm in Newport, N.H., with his wife, Rebecca, said the farm practices “limited irrigation” in response to swings in precipitation levels.

“We do what we can reach, what we have the water for,” Nelson said.

Beaver Pond farms on a variety of soil types to prepare for irregularities.

“I have fields that, in really wet years, are better off than the fields that can withstand drier years,” Nelson said of his sandy soil — it does better than heavier, wet clay soil, which is more prevalent on riverside farms and doesn’t drain as well.

But while celebrating the capacity of sandy soil to perform during wet periods, Beaver Pond had to manually irrigate its raspberry crop for the first time this year.

“The extremes are getting more extreme,” Nelson said. “It’s either too dry or too wet.”

Lebanon Public Works Director Jay Cairelli, who is also a member of the New England Water Works Association’s Sustainability Committee, hopes to diversify the town’s water supply so it can endure weather extremes better.

Lebanon has been considering adopting a second water source, eyeing a potential groundwater aquifer in West Lebanon that could be used if the river is no longer an option.

“The river is our single water source right now, and most communities are in that same predicament,” Cairelli said.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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