Drought plagues southern counties

  • The United States Drought Monitor map showing “Moderate” and “Severe” drought in the Monadnock Region.

  • The United States Drought Monitor map showing “extreme” drought in Southeastern New Hampshire and Eastern Massachusetts. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Brandon Latham—

  • The drying banks of the Contoocook River in Peterborough. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

  • The drying banks of the Contoocook River in Peterborough. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript...

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, August 22, 2016 6:32PM

The seven southern-most counties in the state, including Hillsborough and Cheshire, are in the midst of a “severe” drought, according to the State Department of Environmental Services.

The lack of rain has effected businesses, farmers and homeowners.

“So far what we’re seeing from loss assessment reports is an approximately 30 to 40 percent drop in yield of production because of the drought,” said Bill Cilley, state executive director at the New Hampshire Farm Service Agency.

According to Cilley, local farmers and consumers can expect smaller quantities of produce and smaller-sized products, including apples, because of the drought. 

There will not be any New Hampshire peaches this year because of freezing temperatures in the spring, but the drought will not eliminate any additional crops entirely.

“It depends what actual commodities we’re talking about,” he said, trying to estimate the impact of the drought.

He also said it could vary farm to farm because of the sporadic nature of recent rainfall.

It has rained in the Monadnock Region, but not the proper, effective rain needed to ease the harm of the drought. Cilley says there needs to be a few consecutive days of steady, hard rain to help farmers.

“Because the top soil is so dry it just gets absorbed and the heat evaporates it,” he said of recent rainfall. “It’s helping grow grass for hay and things, but it’s not helping from a water table standpoint.”

He said the Department of Agriculture is inviting farmers to apply for emergency loans, which can be difficult but necessary for a business, if they are not insured.

That does not help businesses that need water to be used on the residential, not just production, level.

Patrick Masterson is a landscaper in Peterborough, the founder of Lawn Envy. He said his field has struggled, too.

“It has definitely not been as good as past years,” he said. “The key ingredient is water, if you can’t water when it’s hot due to water bans or you’re on a well, the grass isn’t going to grow.”

Much of his landscaping work is specific to lawn care, which he says should not be done in this weather, even if it could be.

“If you prune plants when it’s hot, humid and already under stress, the plants’ ability to thrive decreases,” he said. “If it’s hot or humid, fertilizing can do more harm than good.”

Peterborough and Rindge are two of the 19 New Hampshire communities with active bans on outdoor water use. Individuals with wells have a bit more freedom, but also ought to be cautious.

David McTigue, a groundwater geologist from New Ipswich, where nearly all residents have private wells, says wells make it easier for nature to keep up with consumption.

“The demand is probably similar but the supply is spread out,” he said since all users are not drawing from the same groundwater source.

If a well is close to drying, which is more likely in older homes with shallow wells, residents may notice silty, dark water. But McTigue says you may not notice, “until it rears its head and bites you,” and it has dried up.

If that happens, Marla Somero of New Ipswich fitness center Be Fit said, “I would be fine with it if anyone needed to come for a shower.”

Cilley says farmers should be aware of their insurance and loan options, saying, “There are programs to help with any type of emergency.”

But, again, he said it all comes down to one thing.

“We can always just keep praying for rain, because that’s what we need.”