It looks as if New Jersey has dodged a bullet once again, avoiding a serious drought emergency.
Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin yesterday announced the lifting of a statewide drought watch for most of the state, with the exception of the coastal northern region that includes nearly all of Monmouth County and northern Ocean County.
In ending the drought watch, which called for voluntary water-use reductions, Martin said more consistent rainfall has occurred since the beginning of October, resulting in a general improvement in drought indicators for most of the state.
“The situation has, thankfully, been improving, allowing us to end the drought watch in most areas,” Martin said, who still asked residents to use water wisely and avoid unnecessary water use.
The lifting of the drought watch occurs even though the 90-day precipitation deficit has not been completed erased. Still, the additional rainfall in recent weeks has increased stream flows and shallow ground levels in most areas, and enabled substantial replenishment of key reservoirs, particularly in the northeastern portions of New Jersey.
The situation is not nearly as encouraging in coastal regions in Monmouth and Ocean counties. For instance, the New Jersey Water Supply Authority’s Manasquan Reservoir is more than 20 percent below normal for this time of year.
“The northern coastal plain has been considerably drier than the rest of the state for several months and the recovery, despite some recent rains, has been slower to materialize,’’ said Steve Doughty, research scientist at DEP’s Division of Water Supply. “Hopefully we’ll be able to end the drought there soon.’’
Until then, residents are still being asked to voluntarily conserve water. Taking steps such as limiting lawn watering, cutting back on at-home car washing and using clothes and dish washers only when the machines are full can save millions of gallons of water daily, according to DEP officials.
According to State Climatologist David Robinson of Rutgers University, New Jersey experienced its warmest summer on record since weather data has been kept starting in 1895. At the same time, below-average rainfall accompanied the heat. It was the tenth driest summer of all time and the driest summer since 1966. Rainfall deficits have been recorded in eight of the the past 11 months, and for six consecutive months preceding October.
With the recent rainfall, it appears New Jersey may once again avert a drought emergency this fall, but questions abound whether the state is prepared to deal with its long-term water supply needs.
“The rains have come but the same failed policies are in place," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “New Jersey still needs to protect and manage its water supply. We still need to change regulations on drought warnings and to have better water conservation."