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Aug 4, 2016 7:22 PM

Officials: Take drought seriously, reduce unnecessary use of water

CONCORD — Most of New Hampshire is in a severe drought, and environmental officials in the state are asking residents to be smart about how they're using water.

The Department of Environmental Services (DES) has classified all seven counties in the southern part of the state as being in a "severe drought," and northern counties as "abnormally dry."

"I started here in 2004, and I would say that this is the worst drought situation I've seen the state in," said Jim Martin, a DES public information officer.

Martin said these have been the drought conditions for as long as a month, and, if the state does not see significant, sustained rain soon, the severe areas could get even worse and require an "emergency" classification.

So far, the outlook for improvement is not good.

"Right now, the forecast through October is looking less than positive," Martin said. "The time for people to act is right now."

Per state law, DES can encourage residents to limit their water use, but it's up to the individual municipalities to implement water restrictions - which can be voluntary - and even bans.

The town of Salem, for example, put mandatory water use restrictions into place in early July. Residents are only permitted to use water outdoors on odd numbered days, between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m., with the exception of car washes, farms and gardens. Among other restrictions, residents are not allowed to wash cars or fill pools that are over 100 gallons.

If any of these restrictions are violated, a written warning will be issued on the first offense. The second could warrant a $100 fine, the third a $500 fine, and any subsequent offenses could result in additional fines and even the possibility of having water service shut off completely.

"It's a way they can certainly grab the residents' attention and get them to take this a bit more seriously," Martin said.

Martin encouraged residents to only use water for "essential reasons," like drinking, cooking, and showering, especially for people with private wells.

Residents can also hand-water plants and gardens and shorten shower times to reduce their water use.

"Be smart with your water use because the worst case scenario is if people's wells start running dry, and there's really no simple resolution for that," he said.

For those who are worried about their brown lawns, Martin said there's no reason to be.

"My grass is brown," he said. "It doesn't mean my lawn is dead. Grass will actually go dormant when it doesn't have enough water."

While officials are asking residents to help slow the progress of the drought by reducing their water use, the only thing that can end the drought is mother nature.

"What we really need to hope for is rain," Martin said. "I'm not telling people to go out and do rain dances or something like that, but we need sustained, long-term periods of rain."

Find a full list of municipalities with water restrictions of bans here.

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