HOULTON, Maine — Some of Maine’s rivers have the lowest water levels they’ve seen in decades, and it would take more than a foot of rain to pull Maine out of the drought it has been in for the second straight summer.
The Maine Drought Task Force, which convened virtually Thursday, reported that the state’s drought conditions have changed little since the group’s July meeting. Though not as severe as last summer’s drought, about three-quarters of the total land area in Maine has at least abnormally dry conditions, and some areas are in severe drought.
The state would need to receive 15 inches of soaking rain over the next three months in drought-affected areas to end the dry conditions, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Maine’s more populated coastal counties remain free of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, but its northern and western counties are at least abnormally dry, with parts of Somerset, Franklin and Oxford counties classified as being in severe drought. All of Aroostook County is classified as at least abnormally dry, with the St. John Valley area having moderate drought.
Measurements of streamflow in the Piscataquis River in Dover-Foxcroft on Thursday had recorded an all-time record low for that date in the 118 years that the U.S. Geological Survey has been monitoring that area, according to Nick Stasulis, a member of the U.S. Geological Survey and the Maine Drought Task Force. The St. John River in Aroostook is also experiencing near-record lows.
“It’s been really struggling to stay in the normal range,” Stasulis said of the St. John. “The little rain storms that have passed through have brought up flows, but they haven’t even brought it into the normal range.”
The state is also experiencing below normal rainfall for the year. Every area monitored for rainfall precipitation is below normal for the year, with Franklin County’s Rangeley leading with a deficit of more than 8 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.
Millinocket and Augusta have a yearly deficit of 5 inches, and Aroostook County and the Portland area have deficits of 3 inches.
But the way in which the state receives that rain is also a factor in fighting a drought, said Sarah Jamison of the National Weather Service office in Gray. Heavy rainstorms, such as the state’s recent encounter with Tropical Storm Henri, do less to assist with drought.
“The higher the intensity, like with a hurricane, you’re going to get a lot more runoff and a lot less recharge than you would with a nice long drawn-out rain event,” Jamison said.
Tom Gordon, representing the Maine Department of Agriculture at the task force meeting, said that rain spread over a longer period of time is more beneficial to crops that may be affected by the drought.
“There’s a general rule of thumb that during the growing season, we’d like to have an inch of water on the crop that needs to be distributed evenly throughout the growing season,” Gordon said. “So if we’re going to get 8 or 9 inches of rain to make up a deficit, that really doesn’t specifically help the crops.”