Monitoring drought conditions, coordinating response actions and assessing impacts.
A drought occurs when a region experiences below-average precipitation over an extended period of time, resulting in low stream flows and low surface water and groundwater levels. Because New Hampshire appears water-rich in comparison to many other regions of the United States, people mistakenly think the occurrence of drought is a rare event. In actuality, New Hampshire experiences drought quite frequently. For example, between the years 2000 and 2020, drought conditions occurred within 11 of those 20 years.
Drought Status and Drought Outlook
The U.S. Drought Monitor map, which is released every Thursday, indicates if any portion of the state is experiencing drought based on the four levels of intensity: D1, D2, D3, and D4. The map is the product of an assessment, which is based on a variety of indexes, indicators and data, as well as input from experts and agencies across the country, including NHDES. NHDES tracks New Hampshire’s groundwater levels, stream flows and reservoir levels, as well as validates drought impacts through communication with stakeholders, such as well drillers, residential well owners, water utilities, farmers and forest rangers.
The National Climate Prediction Center’s Drought Outlook map indicates the likelihood of changes to drought conditions over two time periods: monthly and seasonally (three months). The monthly outlook is published on the last day of each month, and the seasonal outlook is published on the third Thursday of each month. These outlooks, combined with other tools, such as short-term weather forecasts and the National Weather Service's extended range precipitation and temperature outlooks, are key to helping water resource managers and water users make informed decisions related to drought.
Outdoor Water Use Restrictions
During a drought, NHDES posts and maintains a list of towns and public water systems imposing outdoor water use restrictions. Pursuant to RSA 41:11-d, municipalities have the authority to restrict lawn watering within jurisdictional boundaries, which means that residential well owners and other businesses relying on private wells may be subject to restrictions. Public water suppliers also have the authority to impose lawn watering and other outdoor water use restrictions on customers.
If, during a drought, your municipality or water supplier has implemented an outdoor water use restriction, it is intended to help ensure water is available for you and your neighbors’ essential needs and the community’s critical needs, such as firefighting, health care and local business. Please abide by those restrictions.
Drought Preparedness and Response
In New Hampshire, drought preparedness and response efforts are coordinated through a Drought Management Team (DMT), which is comprised of 30 stakeholders and led by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES). The DMT meets as necessary to assess and respond to drought conditions, as well as to continue drought preparedness and response planning. Presentations from past DMT meetings are available for review.
During a drought, NHDES works closely with DMT members, public water systems and municipalities to collect and disseminate information related to drought conditions, drought forecasts, water restrictions, emergency supply guidance, drought impacts, and residential well management. These drought updates are available on the NHDES website. For more detailed information related to the drought planning, preparedness and response efforts of the DMT, see the New Hampshire Drought Management Plan.
Emergency Information and Drought Guidance
Despite all efforts to prepare for a drought, water is a finite resource. Based on previous drought experiences in New Hampshire, wells will go dry and surface water sources will be reduced during a drought. Everybody has a part to play in planning for drought and sustaining water supplies during drought conditions. Guidance on topics, such as curbing water use, implementing outdoor water use restrictions, and what to do in the case of a well failure, is available for municipalities, water utilities, residential and other private well owners, and the public. See the tabs below for resources.