State Strikes Drought Warning/Watch in All but Two Counties

Tom Johnson | April 13, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Below-normal water levels in reservoirs in Hunterdon and Somerset counties keep drought warning in place

Low water level in Spruce Run reservoir makes it clear at a glance why the DEP did not lift the drought warning in Hunterdon County.
The state yesterday lifted a drought warning on all but two counties, as recent rainfall and other precipitation eased a prolonged dry spell that had left most reservoirs and streams way below normal levels.

The action by the state Department of Environmental Protection ends a drought warning in 12 northern and central counties while striking a drought watch in four southern counties — Burlington, Gloucester, Camden, and Salem.

A drought warning remains in effect for Hunterdon and Somerset counties, primarily due to below-normal capacity in the Round Valley and Spruce Run reservoirs, the primary source of drinking water for those regions.

“It’s not a surprise,’’ said David Robinson, state climatologist, who noted that the U.S. Drought Monitor today will declare New Jersey out of a drought designation for the first time in a year.

The state’s water situation started improving with the snowfall in late winter, followed by the above normal rainfall in the following weeks, Robinson said.

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin agreed. “The return of soaking and well-timed precipitation over the winter and early spring has resulted in steady improvements in our drought indicators for most of the state,’’ Martin said.

State geologist Jeffrey Hoffman said water levels are increasing across the state with the recent rains. “Reservoirs, with the exception of Round Valley and Spruce Run, are more than 90 percent full. Stream flows and groundwater levels are tending upward, which is a good sign,’’ he said.

The area around those two reservoirs, at 72 percent and 69 percent of capacity, respectively, had less rainfall this past winter. Typically, the reservoirs are at 94 percent capacity at this time of year.

By remaining under a drought warning, the reservoirs will continue to operate under a modified flow designed to conserve storage, officials said.

“By maintaining the reducing passing-flow requirement, the (New Jersey Water Supply) Authority would expect to have anywhere between seven billion to ten billion gallons in the reservoirs over the upcoming summer months, which will allow the reservoirs to continue to improve,’’ said Beth Gates, executive director of the authority.

State officials cautioned reservoirs to conserve water as the state enters the peak period of water use.

“Our water supplies are finite, to say the least,’’ observed Robinson. “I can remember when the reservoirs were overflowing on May 1, and then we were under a drought watch by August 1.’’

The counties lifted from a drought warning included Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Sussex, Union, and Warren counties.