City restricts water use

Portsmouth limits irrigation due to severe drought conditions

The city of Portsmouth has issued new restrictions on water usage during what has been declared a time of “severe” drought.

The restrictions, which went into effect on Tuesday, Aug. 16, mandate that customers of the Portsmouth water system refrain from outdoor watering on even-numbered days. Lawns and gardens can only be watered between the hours of midnight and 10 a.m. on odd-numbered days until further notice.

The city had previously called for voluntary restrictions on outdoor water use, but implemented mandatory restrictions this week. Brian Goetz, deputy director of Public Works, explained that the Seacoast region is in what is considered to be a severe precipitation deficit.

“We’re currently in a 13-inch deficit, when you look at a year-round water supply,” said Goetz. “We average about 48 inches of precipitation on a 12-month basis, and we’re currently less than 35 inches for the last 12 months.”

Goetz said that this is the largest deficit the area has experienced since 2002, which is the last time restrictions of this kind were placed on water use in Portsmouth.

A report issued by the city on Tuesday defined current water demand as “high,” while labeling the area’s precipitation status as “very dry.” According to the report, Portsmouth received three inches of rain in the month of July and had only received one inch so far in the month of August.

“We’ve gotten little rains here, half an inch or an inch, and they do get people to cut back on their use, but they don’t do a whole lot to get you to recover from a drought,” said Goetz. “We need a few real good soaker rains here. A couple inches would be nice, six inches in a month would be real nice, but that’s not what we’ve been getting.”

It did rain on Tuesday, but Goetz said it was not nearly enough precipitation to make a substantial difference. “Storms seem to be just barely touching us,” he said. “Last night’s rain mostly went north, and we could have used it.”

“Ultimately, if people say that they’re not going to comply, we can send them notice that we may have to shut them off.” — Brian Goetz, deputy director of Portsmouth Public Works

For now, the city is focused on public outreach and making sure that all residents are informed of the new restrictions. Goetz said that if residents are caught using outdoor water outside of the allotted times, they will be contacted by the city and reminded of the restrictions.

“Ultimately, if people say that they’re not going to comply, we can send them notice that we may have to shut them off,” said Goetz.

Portsmouth is not the only Seacoast community monitoring water levels during the current dry spell. In Dover, the Community Services Department has asked water users to voluntarily conserve water due to the “severe lack of rainfall this spring and summer, and the reduced amount of snowfall,” according to an announcement posted on the city website on Aug. 5.

The city made the request following consultations with the N.H. Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) and the Dover Utilities Commission. Suggested conservation measures include restricting outdoor water use except hand watering of gardens, and shutting off automatic irrigation systems.

The town of Durham has not imposed any water use restrictions, though town engineer April Talon said they are keeping an eye on the situation.

“We’re hoping for rain, but we feel that with all of our sources we’ll be able to make it through the summer,” Talon said.

According to the NHDES, more than 100 public water systems in the state have implemented outdoor water use restrictions or bans in their service areas. The department issued a press release on Aug. 3 urging residents to conserve water, saying current conditions represent the most significant drought the state has experienced since 2003.

“Lessons have been learned from past droughts and tools have been put in place to help avoid water shortage emergencies, but we really are at the mercy of the weather,” Stacey Herbold of the NHDES Water Conservation Program said in the press release. “The fact is there is nothing we can do to replenish our water supplies. There is no rainmaker. For now, the best we can do is limit our use to essentials and let the lawn go dormant until rainier days come.”

City officials in Portsmouth continue to closely monitor water levels and work with the NHDES to address the statewide water deficit. While water demand generally goes down after Labor Day, when regular lawn and garden watering decline, Goetz said there is no decided end date for the restrictions.

“All we can say is that we’ll continue to track (water levels), and hopefully we’ll get at least somewhat near normal precipitation,” said Goetz.

For more information on the state’s drought conditions, outdoor water use restrictions, and water efficiency tips, click here. For more information on Portsmouth’s water supply and restrictions, click here.