Susan Bigelow

I was driving through farmland this weekend, just a few miles up the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts, when I saw a thick haze covering the road ahead. It wasn’t fog; the sun was bright and hot, and the sky clear. Instead, it was a cloud of dust blowing off the nearby fields, stirred up by strong winds.

It’s been a hot, dry summer, all right.

Back in mid-July, Gov. Lamont approved a recommendation by the Interagency Drought Working Group to declare all eight of the state’s counties to be in “stage 2” drought conditions. That isn’t something that should be ringing alarm bells, not yet. It’s more of a heads-up, a notice that it’s been a lot drier than usual, and a caution that we might need to get serious about restricting water use should conditions worsen.

Things haven’t improved since, unfortunately. Eastern Connecticut is in a state of “severe drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, while much of the rest of the state is either in “moderate drought” or is “abnormally dry.”

We don’t think about drought here in Connecticut. We’re blessed with an abundance of rainfall, plus plenty of brooks, streams, and rivers that never run dry. We think of drought as a western problem, something that happens to sun-parched Arizona and southern California. We see sobering news of record-low water levels at Lake Mead, where much of the desert southwest gets its water, and we thank our lucky stars it’s not happening here.

But changing weather patterns, such as more hot days during the summer and less snowfall in the winter, are still having a serious impact on our own water supplies. This can change life here in ways both large and small. For instance, on Monday the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued an emergency halt to fishing near tributaries of the Farmington River. The reason is that a lack of rain plus the stubbornly hot temperatures we’ve been enduring for the past two weeks have made the Farmington’s water too warm for the trout that swim in it, and they’re clustering near the cooler waters brought down by the streams that feed the river. DEEP ordered the halt to protect those now-vulnerable populations.

That may seem like a small thing, hardly worth mentioning. But what will the effect be if this happens year after year? There will be fewer fish that can live in the river, and that will have a ripple effect on all the other wildlife nearby. If bears can’t get enough food from the local stream, for example, your trash barrel will start looking pretty tasty.

Plus, small problems can turn into big ones pretty quickly if we’re not careful. Extended periods of moderate to severe drought could deplete the reservoirs and groundwater we depend on, and increase the risk of dangerous flash floods.

As the climate shifts, we have to start preparing for scenarios that seemed impossible before.

That’s the future, though. What does a “stage 2” drought warning mean for us right now? Do we need to drag out the rain barrels and quit flushing the toilet? No, definitely not. Please flush. It’s not Mad Max yet.

But we should start thinking about smart ways to use the water we do have. I’m not saying you should quit watering your lawn and replace the whole thing with moss or some sort of other more eco-friendly ground cover … though if you did, it would be very cool! Lawns are a huge waste of resources, and I totally don’t think that just because I hate mowing mine. Maybe, as a compromise, you could turn on the sprinklers one fewer day per week.

What other ways can we think of to save a little more water? Would a shower that’s a minute shorter be so bad? What about slightly larger loads of laundry, or not leaving the faucet running when you’re not using it? These are small things, but they add up. And when we do face a more severe drought, we’ll already have these habits of saving.

And saving is the key. As Yankees we love to be thrifty, and I know we can apply the natural stinginess we derive from our ancestors to water usage. Don’t think of it as being environmentally friendly, think of it as putting one over on the water company. You’re not saving the planet, you’re saving a few bucks!

So let’s try to get smart about using water, for the future’s sake. Oh, and for the sake of your wallet, too. It’s worth doing.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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