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Conditions 'Rapidly' Deteriorate As State Raises Drought Alarm

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
A forest fire in Windham, Connecticut, burned around 100 acres last week.

As the dry weather continues in Connecticut, state officials on Monday asked residents of New London County to voluntarily cut back on outdoor irrigation and other nonessential uses of water. 

The county is now experiencing what a panel of state officials calls “an emerging drought event potentially impacting water supplies, agriculture or natural ecosystems.”

The Connecticut Interagency Drought Workgroup, a consortium of state environmental, agricultural and health officials, upgraded drought conditions in New London County to “Stage 2” on Monday. 

New London County joins four other Connecticut counties already in a Stage 2 drought: Litchfield, Hartford, Tolland and Windham counties.

“Conditions in eastern Connecticut have deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks, with plummeting streamflow and groundwater levels following a particularly dry August and first half of September,” the agency said in an emailed statement.

Officials are asking residents of all affected counties to cut back on watering their lawns, postpone new plantings and fix any leaking pipes. 

Across much of Connecticut, the effects of weeks with little to no precipitation are taking hold. 

Farmers recently expressed concern about impacts on certain crops like Christmas trees and dairy products. And last week, federal officials upgraded portions of eastern Connecticut to “extreme” drought conditions, noting potential harm to both industries.

Meanwhile, a fire at a state forest in Windham burned nearly 100 acres, spurred by dry forest conditions, which could allow embers to smolder for weeks. 

Will Healey, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said in an email Monday that the fire at Natchaug State Forest is now contained, but “local residents should still expect to see and smell smoke.”

“There is still no threat to the public or any structures at this time,” Healey wrote. “It can take several weeks or even months for forest fires to fully extinguish, and given the very dry conditions we’re experiencing, that could be the case with this particular fire.”

In Hartford County, which the U.S. Drought Monitor says is in a less severe drought stage, drinking water supplies remain strong, according to the Metropolitan District Authority. 

“The MDC’s reservoirs are at approximately 85% of capacity this week, which is typical for this time of year, historically,” said MDC spokesperson Nick Salemi. “We are monitoring the dry weather conditions very closely. It is always prudent to conserve, however there are no restrictions on water use for MDC customers at this time.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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