Drought watch issued for all of NY state

A drought watch was issued for all of New York state on Friday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. It’s the state’s first drought watch in 14 years.

Department Commissioner Basil Seggos said the decision to issue the watch was made after consultation with the state’s Drought Management Task Force and federal agencies.

“While most public water supplies are still generally normal throughout the state, below-normal precipitation over the last nine months, low stream flows and reduced groundwater levels have prompted the need for this action,” Seggos said in a prepared statement. “We are encouraging residents throughout the state to conserve water whenever possible during the coming months.”

A watch is the lowest of four levels of state drought advisories (watch, warning, emergency and disaster) and is not accompanied by mandatory water-use restrictions. However, the state said, local-level public water suppliers may require such measures depending upon local needs and conditions.

The last drought watch in New York state was issued in 2002.

The current drought watch is triggered by the state’s “drought index,” which reflects precipitation levels, reservoir/lake levels, stream flows and groundwater levels in nine designated drought regions throughout New York. Each of these indicators is assigned a weighted value based on its significance to various uses in a region.

The state said precipitation has been less than normal, with shortfalls of 4 to 8 inches in many areas over the past 90 days. The dry weather dates back to the Oct. 1, 2015, start of the state’s “water year” and is beginning to significantly affect other water metrics, the state said. It said stream flows and groundwater levels are well below normal throughout much of New York, and groundwater levels were seasonally worse in June compared to May and are not expected to improve in the immediate future.

The state offers the following tips for reducing home water usage:

• Fix dripping and leaking faucets and toilets. (A faucet leaking 30 drops per minute wastes 54 gallons per month.)

• Raise your lawn mower’s cutting height. Longer grass needs less water.

• When using automatic lawn-watering systems, override the system in wet weather or use a rain gauge to control when and how much water to use.

• Water lawns and gardens on alternate mornings instead of every day.

• Sweep sidewalks and steps rather than hosing them.