The Drought of 2016

THE RIVER ROUNDUP – FRCC’s River Stewardship News Vol #4: 12/14/16

the farmington river under drought conditions

As most of you know, Northwest CT has been receiving unusually low amounts of precipitation, and we are officially in a drought. What many of you may not know is how severe it is, and how this year’s data compares with years past.

CT has four stages of Drought – Advisory, Watch, Warning, and Emergency. You can learn more about them at Earlier this year on June 27th, 2016 The Department of Health declared a Drought Advisory (also done in 2002, 2007 and 2010). Then on October 28th, 2016 Governor Malloy issued the state’s first-ever drought-watch.It was for 6 of the 8 counties in CT (including Litchfield County). He asks that people and businesses voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 15%. The low rainfall paired with record high temperatures has many reservoirs 80% under their normal levels. Fast forward to where we are now with December half over, New Hartford, CT has received only 37.41 inches of rain so far this year (source: + local rain gauge). The average annual total in New Hartford for the past 30 years 53.68 inches.

the colebrook reservoir in a drought, summer 2016
The Colebrook Reservoir

The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) has classifications that are somewhat different than what the State of CT uses for its planning. The USDM was established in 1999 and produces weekly maps from data collected by NOAA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center. Here are their intensities:

D0 – Abnormally Dry
D1 – Moderate Drought
D2 – Severe Drought
D3 – Extreme Drought
D4 – Exceptional Drought

As of December 6, 2016 Litchfield County is the only county completely under D3 (extreme) conditions. Most of Hartford County is as well, but the majority of the rest of CT is either under D2 or D1 conditions. The general outlook for CT is a slight short term improvement in the month of December, but that drought conditions will continue at least through the end of this prediction period, which is February 28th, 2017.

current drought status of new england in december 2016
Source - U.S. Drought Monitor

How does all this affect the Upper Farmington River? First, lack of water in the reservoirs has forced a reduction in flows. Since early August, except for a handful of short spikes, the river has flowed under 100 cfs. During much of that timeframe the flow was actually closer to the minimum required flow of 50 cfs. This has meant boating opportunities have been virtually non-existent, and during the summer months when the water was much warmer, fishing was affected. Trout like the cool, dam-fed water that the Farmington provides. However, when the flows are so low, the water warms up more and fish seek refuge in the few cool, deeper pools that they can find. Sometimes these are where local streams and brooks meet the river. This past season, fishing bans were put in place by DEEP at a few of these areas to give stressed fish a place to recover.

With the current weather pattern forecast to continue for at least the near future, we need to realize the Farmington River is in a fragile state and may not provide the optimum recreational experience we have grown used to. Keeping trash out of the river, managing buffer zones, and listening to any special announcements concerning the river and water conservation are even more important now. Let’s do our part and maybe we should all learn the ‘rain dance’!

Written by:

Stephan Bastrzycki
FRCC – River Steward