The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday declared statewide drought monitoring, urging residents and businesses to voluntarily conserve water, the first step of a multi-tiered drought advisory system that culminates with mandatory restrictions if conditions worsen.
However, the state began urging residents to start conserving water two weeks ago as July fell well below normal rainfall.
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Much of South Jersey is unusually dry, according to the US Drought Monitor. And parts of central and northern New Jersey are already in a moderate drought. However, the drought monitor does not exactly match New Jersey’s own complex system for determining drought.
The monitoring advisory issued by DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette is the first of three phases of the drought system and is intended to educate the public about conditions and encourage voluntary water conservation.
The DEP said more than 30% of water use in suburban areas is used for lawns, washing vehicles and hosing down driveways. Much of it could easily be trimmed, officials said.
If conditions worsen, the state could declare a drought warning or eventually a drought emergency. LaTourette said conserving water now could stave off more extreme measures. His own lawn is brown, he said, “and that’s okay.”
“Stream flow and groundwater levels are falling below normal in most of the state, and some reservoirs are showing sharp rates of decline as hot and dry conditions continue,” LaTourette said in a statement. “While water conservation is always important, it becomes critical during prolonged dry and hot periods such as New Jersey has experienced. If citizens and businesses do everything we can to reduce water demand, together we can ensure an adequate supply in the weeks and months to come.”
DEP officials said the reservoirs feed parts of North Jersey.
Meanwhile, Steve Domber, DEP’s water resource management department head, said streams and waterways that provide drinking water in South Jersey need to be monitored.
“In terms of stream flow and water table levels in South Jersey, it was certainly the drier part of the state for most of the year,” Domber said. “They’ve taken a few storms, but not enough. Groundwater tends to react somewhat more slowly. It takes a while for the water to seep in and for the water table to recover. So we are watching that closely.”
August is already about an inch below normal for rain in Philadelphia, where the closest National Weather Service station to South Jersey is with summary data. Philadelphia is also running 5.6 degrees above normal.
July was 2.8 inches below normal for rain and 3.4 degrees hotter than normal.
The DEP Scientific Report on Climate Change states that as climate change changes, New Jersey will experience a greater frequency of intense storms as well as a decrease in summertime precipitation, leading to a potential for more frequent and prolonged droughts.
The last drought warning or drought warning issued in the state was in 2016. And the last time the state made restrictions mandatory was in 2002.