Boats are pictured along the coast of Hancock County. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Continued dry conditions in Stonington and an influx of summer visitors has forced the island town to buy tens of thousands of gallons of drinking water to keep its wells full.

Last week, the town ordered 64,000 gallons of water to keep up with the demands on its small water district. It will likely have to buy even more as summer rolls on.

“They can’t pump water out of something that’s not there,” said Kathleen Billings, Stonington’s town manager. “The rain that we got just wasn’t enough.”

Until last year, the town never had to buy water and truck it into town to keep up with the demand. But in 2021, drought conditions and a growing number of summer residents and tourists forced the town to haul in an additional 400,000 gallons of water.

It’s not yet clear how much water Stonington will have to purchase this year to meet the need.

While always a popular summer destination, the small fishing village seems to have gotten even busier during the pandemic, pushing the town’s aquifer to the limit.

In the offseason, the town’s wells usually pump about 20,000 gallons of water per day. But that has jumped up to about 55,000 gallons this summer — about 16,000 more gallons a day than in July 2020.

The town has mailed out reminders to homeowners asking them to think twice about their water usage and previously requested that they address any potential leaks after a loss of tens of thousands of gallons at an unattended home this winter.  

“Don’t wash cars, [do] fix leaks, do everything you can to conserve,” Billings pleaded.

Stonington has also hired a hydrologist to look for more potential well locations in town, a proposition that is made difficult by the island’s abundance of granite.

The town purchased the additional water from Maine Water in Bucksport. The water itself costs about 2 cents per gallon and 9 cents per gallon to transport it, according to Billings, so this first order cost a little over $7,000.

Usually water usage dips in the first or second week of August and then starts to get back closer to the 20,000 gallon per day range in September.

But with little snow this winter and few rain storms so far this summer, the town’s wells just can’t keep up right now and maintain high enough water levels in case of emergencies, such as fires.

Like much of Maine, nearly all of Hancock County is experiencing moderate drought conditions, and last month was the 18th driest June on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Maine Drought Task Force expected the current conditions to run through at least the end of the month.

“I think it’s just depending on what the weather is and how long this hangs on,” Billings said. “[The drought] seems to make it really difficult for us to get water back in that aquifer.”