Despite Flood, Drought Still Wracks Worcester County

By Nicholas Clark

Despite Friday night’s flooding, Worcester county is still in the midst of a severe drought according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.

According to the National Weather Service, Worcester received 4.1 inches of rainfall Friday, but, like much of the country, is still considered experiencing a drought.

City Manager Edward Augustus declared a Stage 3 drought emergency on Sep. 8th. This measure is taken once the reservoir capacity has dropped – some 30% below average for the season.

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With a Stage 3 drought emergency in place, the city prohibits the use of what they define as “water waste.” With the hope of maintaining enough reservoir capacity, prohibitory measures are in effect. This is to ensure a 20-25% reduce in water use in Worcester.

Activities such as failing to fix a leak, filling swimming pools, and all outdoor water use can result in a fine from the city. This means routine seasonal landscaping, sprinkler systems, car washing, and cleaning are all considered “water waste.”

Overseeing all of Worcester’s ten reservoirs in surrounding towns, the Worcester Water Operations totals the combined reservoir capacity at 7,379.9 million gallons. They state that on average Worcester’s reservoirs fill to 82% capacity when entering September.

This year was not so average. When Sept. 1 arrived, the reservoirs sat at an unsettling 55% capacity – an unexpected number even for a summer dryer than usual. With the 24-year average of 32.79 inches, Worcester saw numbers dwindle to a year-to-date rainfall average of just 23.45 inches.

Efforts are in place to quell the use of excess water but the withering of reservoirs continues. By Oct. 1, the reservoirs were filled to just 50% capacity.

For a city with over 180,000 residents, nine colleges, and countless working men and women commuting, this lack of water could prove to be a significant problem.

Worcester hasn’t experienced a severe drought entering September since 1966, when half of the reservoirs were completely depleted: a possible forewarning, as Jan. 1 1967 saw 31% reservoir capacity.

The city posted a formal Q&A online addressing many concerns about the crisis. They encouraged residents to continue drinking tap water for hydration, and mentioned supplementing the reservoirs.

“There are several alternative water sources available to us if it becomes necessary,” said the website. “However, purchasing water to supplement our system is very costly.”

Photos shared over media of the reservoirs offer a grim reminder of the situation’s severity. When City Manager Augustus first held a conference declaring the stage 3 emergency at Quinapoxet Reservoir, he was standing on dry ground that should have been several feet underwater.

As Worcester enters a season yielding less rainfall than normal, mindfulness is necessary when using water. The city can only hope for an upcoming season of heavy precipitation to replenish the reservoirs.

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