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Region’s wells running dry: Moderate drought, more time at home causing water outages

  • Ron Colton II, of Stockbridge, middle, and Tim Carter, of Pittsfield, right, fill an auxilliary water tank for Bill Prentice at his sister’s home in Tunbridge, Vt., Friday, Sept., 11, 2020. “I don’t think we’ve ever run dry, to the best of my knowledge,” said Prentice of the spring on the property that has been owned by his family since 1938. But that changed this week when the ground around around spring on the hill above the house turned dry and hard. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tim Carter, of Pittsfield, gets himself a drink of water from the 42,000 gallon storage tank at Pristine Mountain Springs of Vermont on a break between deliveries for Ronald Colton Spring Water in Stockbridge, Vt., Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ron Colton bought a property with a spring in Stockbridge, Vt., in 1975. In 1996 he started Pristine Mountain Springs of Vermont, selling the water flowing out of the ground at 900 gallons per minute to bottlers. He also operates Ronald Colton Spring Water with his son providing residential water deliveries. Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tim Carter, of Pittsfield, right, and Ron Colton II, of Stockbridge, left, make a delivery of spring water to a private home in Hancock, Vt., Friday, Sept., 11, 2020. It was their third of four deliveries that day during which they covered about 350 miles. With the lack of rain this summer they said they have been driving their 1,000 gallon tank farther south than Boston, and to nearly the Canadian border for deliveries. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/14/2020 9:10:52 PM
Modified: 9/14/2020 9:10:49 PM

Springs have stopped running, wells are running dry and people are being advised to limit their water usage in response to a moderate drought that is impacting the Upper Valley and much of the Twin States.

“A lot of people when they call, they say they’re out of water and they’ve never been out of water before,” said Ronald Colton, owner and operator of Pristine Mountain Springs of Vermont in Stockbridge, Vt. The last summer he remembers it being like this was 1999, which was referred to as a 100-year drought. “This year is busier than ’99 in terms of wells.”

Call volume is around three times what is in a normal year, Colton said, and they’ve been filling around eight wells per day.

“When the water table in the ground goes down, these springs that normally flow to the surface stop running,” Colton explained.

Next, the wells run dry and employees truck in water from the Stockbridge spring and fill them.

“A lot of them we go once a week or every two weeks depending on how much water they use, how much storage they have,” he said.

Ken White, general manager of Valley Artesian Well Company in Ascutney, Vt., said employees have been busy drilling deeper wells.

“The wells that are 15-20 feet deep, we’ve had quite a few of those that are drying up that we’ve had to start drilling replacements for,” White said. “Even with some of the rain that we’ve had, the grass soaks it right up, the trees soak it right up. The ground below it is still very dry. A lot of times in years like this, we don’t really see a lot of recharge of the aquifers until the leaves come off the trees and the trees aren’t using as much water and that water makes its way to the ground.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role.

“There are more people spending a little more time at home, perhaps tending their garden better than they have in the past and that uses water and they’ve been much more attentive to the gardens during a very dry summer that’s impacted the water that they used,” White said.

White said homeowners should be “prudent” with their water usage.

“Most wells will support people’s daily usage inside their homes. When people start using garden hoses… that crosses into a precarious situation where the well may not have enough water to support outdoor water as well,” he said.

Towns including Enfield, Lebanon and Canaan have asked residents to be cognizant of their water usage.

In July, Lebanon ordered residents not to water lawns or landscapes between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Mandatory restrictions on outdoor watering went into effect on Monday in Enfield. Enfield Municipal Water System residential and business customers are prohibited from watering their lawns, washing their vehicles and washing paved surfaces, among other activities.

“We are strongly encouraging residents who are on private wells to be judicious in their water use particularly for outdoor irrigation and water use. If a drought were to persist, private water supplies could be impacted as well,” Town Manager Ryan Aylesworth said.

The town initially started with voluntary restrictions to get water users thinking about conservation. Those who violate the ordinance will first receive a written warning, followed by a $100 fine for a second offense, then $500 for each time after and their water being disconnected.

“Our goal is certainly not to fine people. We’re not trying to generate revenue. This is education,” Aylesworth said. “If things continue to be dry as they have been for much of the summer, this will continue to be in effect. It’s not a one storm event that reverses it. It’s sustained weather patterns. A lot of it is in Mother Nature’s hands at this point.”

In a newsletter sent to residents late last week, Canaan officials reported that residents have started asking the fire department to fill wells, which they cannot do.

“We are unable to fulfill those requests because we do not have the ability to sanitize the water for drinking and a dry well will just absorb the water and it would not be feasible,” the newsletter stated. Residents who need water are welcome to fill some containers from the village water system at the elevated faucet on the west end of the Town Green. Canaan Street Lake, where Canaan Village gets its water, is down 10-12 inches due to the drought.

Fire officials have also raised concerns about the drought and potential wildfires, saying it contributed to a brush fire over the weekend near Moose Mountain in Hanover.

Becka Warren, Valley Food and Farm coordinator at Vital Communities, has heard farmers throughout the region have been struggling with the drought as well.

“Some folks have never watered this much ever,” she said.

The drought also speaks to the impact climate change has had on food producers in the area.

“This is what climate change looks like in Vermont and New Hampshire,” Warren said. “We’re looking at more precipitation overall, but coming in more extreme events centered in the spring (and) these long summer droughts are also part of the landscape,” adding that the community needs to have “conversations about how do we build soil health, how do we help farmers adapt, how do we finance the adaptation of farmland?”

On the wildlife front, some species have been negatively impacted by the drought while others have benefited from dry conditions.

“If you’re a wild brook trout in a Vermont mountain stream, if your stream gets a lot less water in it, it’s harder to survive to get food and avoid predators,” said Mark Scott, director of wildlife for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. “One of the observations that most people see is the berry crops started off so good this year. It dried up a fair bit because of the lack of the rain.”

That has the ability to impact bears, who may tire of trying to find food and decide to hibernate earlier. Ducks that may stop in Vermont marshes during their migration might not stay very long because they can’t find food or protection. Sandpipers, however, are having better luck.

“Then you can have access to a lot more habitat to feed on these dry marshes where you can probe for insects in the mud that would ordinarily be underwater,” Scott said.

It’s also shaping up to be a good year for turkeys. The dry spring — particularly late May and early June — made poult survival rates higher.

The department is still working on calculating numbers from the turkey count, but preliminary data and anecdotal evidence is showing strong numbers. People have also observed more crickets and other large insects which may have contributed to their success.

“They probably have done well feeding on those,” Scott said. “The young birds, you almost can’t tell them from the adults.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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