Private wells in New England coming up empty amid drought

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — When Roxanne Moore got up to make her morning coffee a few weeks ago, she turned on the faucet and got a burst of water — then nothing came out but air.

That was the last time Moore had water at her home in Kingston, New Hampshire. The 70-year-old woman has been forced to depend on relatives and friends for water to bathe, cook and clean because her private well has gone dry amid this summer’s prolonged drought and dry weather in the Northeastern U.S.

“It’s been very, very difficult,” said Moore. “The things you take for granted like going in the bathroom to wash your face, you can’t do that anymore. You have to have someone do your laundry. You have to leave the house to take baths. I have to make sure I have enough water for the animals. It’s not easy.”

Moore is among the latest feeling the effects of a drought that experts say is the worst in more than a decade. With the region receiving about half the rain it needs this summer, much of northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire where Moore lives are in an extreme drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map , produced by federal agencies and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, shows parts of southwestern Maine and western New York also in extreme drought, and parts of other states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia, are in a drought or abnormally dry conditions.

The dry weather, expected to last through the fall, has caused problems for farmers, led to water restrictions in many places, raised concerns about a shortened fall foliage season so important to New England’s tourism business, and now is hitting private well owners.

About 2.3 million people, or 20 percent of New England’s population, get their water from private wells, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The hardest hit this summer are those like Moore who have shallow, or what are called dug wells. Those with much deeper, underground wells have largely been spared.

“All of southern New Hampshire and into even parts of central New Hampshire, we have seen it where water levels are extremely low. Anybody with a dug well is at risk,” said Scott Costa, owner of Comac Pump & Well in Kingston, whose company started getting calls in May about dry wells and saw calls spike in the past 45 days.

“We’ve seen the bottom of holes absolutely. You are looking at the bottom and there is no water in it at all,” he said. “Some people have been great with it and roll with it. … Other people will panic, be nervous. We do whatever we can.”

In East Poultney, Vermont, Dave Parker’s company, Parker Water Wells, has two drilling rigs that operate throughout most of the state and parts of New York. He said they’ve been drilling every day.

“We’re re-drilling a lot of them, going deeper, and it’s harder to find water, for sure,” said Parker, who has been in business for 35 years. “It’s definitely drier out than we’ve seen it in 20 years.”

The National Weather Service has gotten reports of privately owned wells in Burrillville, Rhode Island, near the borders of Massachusetts and Connecticut, also drying up.

As the water runs out, several towns and private organizations are lending a hand. The Kingston Fire Department has opened its doors to residents who need water, and Sanborn Regional High School, which serves Kingston, Newton and Fremont, is offering free showers in the evenings.

At Elation Salon in Kingston, owner Laurie Farmer gives free shampoos to people who don’t have water — something she has done in past disasters like ice storms.

“There are always reasons why washing your hair can be a hardship whether you lost your well temporally or you have a power outage,” Farmer said. “It’s easy to sponge bath, but it’s not so easy to really wash your hair.”

For people whose wells have gone dry, the options are limited. They can either wait things out and hope for a wetter fall or spend upward of $10,000 to hire a company to drill an artesian well, which goes down from 100 to 1,500 feet.

Moore isn’t one of the lucky ones. She can’t afford to drill a new well so she is doing everything to conserve the water she has, even putting buckets outside to collect the little rain that’s fallen. She also is lobbying for a tougher ban on outdoor water use in Kingston, whose ban only extends to watering lawns not such activities as washing cars.

“I’m looking ahead to plenty of rain,” Moore said. “Hopefully, it will be supplied. … You just need to have patience and wait.”

(Copyright (c) 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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