As an extreme drought continues to hang over southern New Hampshire, officials say a dry winter could have noticeable consequences for the regional environment.
Many of those problems might not be felt in the next few months when weather gets cold and water use drops. However, if not enough snow falls this winter, the spring could see problems with animal populations that indirectly effect the lives of Granite Staters, like low fish populations and more mosquitoes.
The drought is currently designated “extreme” in Rockingham County, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and is felt in varying levels throughout New Hampshire and southern Maine. It is considered by officials to be the worst since 2001, with some saying since the 1980s.
“This does a lot of things to the environment,” said Tom Ballestero, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Stormwater Center. Many of the impacts on the environment, he said, have to do with ponds and streams drying up, which locals have noticed this year.
Julie Smith, who works at Towle Farm Market & Deli in Hampton, said Batchelder Pond, across the street from the shop, started looking low about a month ago. “The customers are saying they have never seen it this low,” Smith said.
Ballestero said if the drought continues into the winter fish populations could be down significantly come spring. With less water, animals like raccoons have easier access to fish, allowing them to catch them before fishermen do, he added.
Lower water levels in streams also means more breeding grounds for mosquitoes that rely on still water. Ballestero said still water becomes prevalent when streams go dry and water stops running in places.
If ponds vital to larger animals like deer dry up, those animals might be more susceptible to traveling longer distances to reach water, including over roads or through residents’ yards.
“Wildlife can be stressed,” Ballestero said. “It dramatically effects (the environment).”
Many Seacoast residents have dealt with having their lawns dry and die as a result of the drought, as numerous communities enacted mandatory bans on outdoor water use. Rollinsford and Rochester joined the list of communities with mandatory bans this week. Several other towns that had already bans in place have increased restrictions and all area communities are urging conservation.
Some residents not on public water systems have suffered even more. The Associated Press reports about 20 percent of New England's population get their water from private wells, citing the Environmental Protection Agency. Some who have shallow, dug wells, have seen them go dry. In Kingston, several people are living with dry wells, and the fire station is allowing people to fill buckets of water while Sanborn Regional High School has opened its showers for public use. Most people with much deeper wells have not lost their water supply, however.
If the drought continues, Ballestero said residents may become more conscious of its effects on the ecosystem as well. If this winter is similar to last year’s, which has been considered a main cause of the current drought, Ballestero said it could cause conditions that “go back to the 1800s.”
“I think you’re bordering on record conditions,” Ballestero said.
Some say New Hampshire will not have a dry winter like it did last year. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting “above-average precipitation and near-normal snowfall.”