Corn crops in East Windsor Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The governor declared Stage 3 drought conditions in New London and Windham Counties on Thursday after a state commission voted unanimously to recommend the change as a result of weeks of low rainfall and heightened fire danger. 

The elevated condition puts Connecticut’s two eastern counties in a moderate drought event while the rest of the state remains in a lesser, Stage 2, condition. According to Connecticut’s drought response plan, Stage 1 represents normal rainfall while Stage 5 indicates an extreme drought event. 

“There are steps that residents and businesses can take to help reduce the impacts of this drought, including by voluntarily reducing water usage to only those things that are absolutely necessary and limiting the amount of water being used,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a press release. 

“Those who depend on private wells, fire or irrigation ponds, and other highly localized water resources should be especially mindful of local conditions, most particularly in places where previous droughts have had a significant impact on water supplies,” he said. 

Although some towns have instituted mandatory restrictions, the state’s heightened drought condition comes with voluntary recommendations like minimizing overall water usage, curtailing lawn irrigation, and avoiding fires near woods or brush. 

Lamont’s declaration followed recommendations made Thursday by the Connecticut Interagency Drought Workgroup during a special meeting, scheduled as a result of concerning rainfall and surface water metrics that have been ongoing for weeks. The same group voted in mid July to recommend putting all of Connecticut in a Stage 2 drought condition.

The panel, which includes representatives of a handful of executive branch agencies, heard concerning updates from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the National Weather Service and the United States Geological Survey during the special meeting. 

Nicole Belk, a senior hydrologist at the National Weather Service, said the low precipitation so far in August follows an exceptionally dry July, especially in eastern Connecticut.

“You already know that it’s been quite dry but what I’d like to point out is if we continue with the status quo from what we’ve seen for the first couple weeks of August, if that holds on through the end of the month, we could be looking at two month figures well below 65% of normal,” Belk said. 

Helene Hochholzer, forest protection supervisor with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said low moisture in vegetation has recently put most of the state at higher than normal risk of fires. 

“What we’re experiencing right now in Connecticut is our fire danger is pretty much primarily being driven by the fuel moisture depletion right now,” Hochholzer said. “Basically, that’s not going to go down. We’re going to remain at high, very high or extreme [fire danger] until we receive significant rain. We’ve been lucky so far that we haven’t had a lot of winds.”

The conditions put extra strain on homeowners with wells in the eastern part of the state. Although officials have yet to report any known instances of wells running dry, Lori Mathieu, drinking water chief at the Department of Public Health, urged homeowners to be mindful of their water consumption. 

“In general, everyone who has a private well should just be really careful with their water use,” Mathieu said. “Monitoring your outdoor water use and making sure that you’re not overstressing at this time is really very important.”