Water, Water Everywhere Doesn’t Mean A Drink

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by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

In the past few weeks New Jersey has seen lots of rain, including flooding in some areas of the state. So those with damp basements and spongy yards may be surprised to hear that we’re still under a statewide drought watch.

The drought watch – less urgent than a drought warning – reminds us of how important water is to life, and how important it is to use water wisely, even when it seems plentiful.

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Over the past 12 months, New Jersey has actually had average to slightly above average rainfall over the whole state. So why are we under a statewide drought watch?

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection extensively monitors and reports on our drinking water supplies. The state is divided into six regions, and within each a combination of weather stations, stream flow gauges and groundwater monitoring wells are used to assess how much drinking water is available. Readings are updated every other week in normal and wet periods. When things get dry, the monitoring is done weekly.

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Data and analysis from these indicators help the state make better decisions about when droughts start and stop, as well as how best to respond. Up-to-the-week data is posted for the public online at NJDEP’s Drought Information website at www.njdrought.org.

So what does the data tell us about the drought watch?

Put simply, a few wet weeks can’t make up for months of drier than normal conditions. March through August 2010 was the sixth driest five-month period on record in New Jersey, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center.

In northern New Jersey, for example, about 18 inches of rain have fallen since April 1 in Passaic County, about 6.5 inches below normal. Were it not for two significant rain events – heavy rains in March, and another 3 to 5 inch event in August – we could be talking about drought warnings, not watches.

Before the recent rains, water levels in reservoirs around the northern half of New Jersey were about 10 to 15 percent below normal for this time of year. Even with the rainfall, large portions of the state – central, southern and eastern – had below normal precipitation over the past 90 days.

Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks and months – abundant rain or more dry spells – we only help ourselves by conserving water. This is true whether you have a private well or depend on public water. The less we all draw out of the system, the faster it recharges.

Saving water is easy. There are many suggestions at NJDEP’s Drought Information website (www.njdrought.org) or by calling 1-800-4-ITS-DRY. And there are 100 ideas at the Water Use It Wisely website (www.wateruseitwisely.com).

So let it rain! And let the rain be a reminder of how important water is – important enough to conserve, even as it’s falling from the sky!

And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.


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