Duane Tobey, right, and Pete Kelley work Tuesday at a barn for round bales of hay at Kelley Bros. Farm in Pittston. With most of Kennebec County experiencing moderate drought conditions, Kelley says he finds harvesting hay for his herd of cattle has been easier this year. “It dries quickly” between cutting a field and tedding, or raking, he says. “But we are behind on rain.” Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — With only spotty rainfall across central Maine in July, drought conditions across the region have worsened, and even with rain in the forecast for this weekend, conditions are not expected to improve much.

The state’s Drought Task Force issued its monthly report Thursday, detailing worsening drought conditions across southern and central Maine.

Most of central Maine is now in a moderate drought. The extreme southern end of Kennebec County, along with all of neighboring Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties, are in severe drought.

Bands of abnormally dry conditions stretch across northwestern Kennebec County, and through southern and part of northern Somerset County.

Thursday also brought some of the hottest temperatures in the region this year, with parts of the state reportedly reaching the upper 90s, prompting officials to open local cooling centers and issue a heat advisory that extends through Friday.

Sarah Jamison, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said Thursday the moisture deficit for central Maine ranges from 4 inches to 8 inches since the start of the year, and the main culprit is the winter snowpack.


“Irrigation is definitely becoming a necessity around here, especially for our farmers, who have been struggling for the last three summers we’ve been dealing with this,” Jamison said. “Now that we are in the peak growing season, we’re definitely seeing stress on agriculture.”

One of the catalysts behind dry conditions this year and last is the below-normal snowpack over the past three winters. The result, she said, is an earlier spring melt, with more time for conditions to dry out before the growing seasons starts.

“We depend on that spring melt to recharge our groundwater, to saturate our soils and to keep the rivers high when we start to green up,” Jamison said, “In the last couple years, because that cycle has started earlier, we have already put stress on the surface water when we start the growing season.”

In the past few winters, Maine experienced near-normal precipitation, but it came as rain and snow, contributing to a smaller snowpack.

That means if precipitation during the spring and summer months does not develop, a rapid or flash drought is likely.

And while storms have dropped rain across the region this summer, the rainfall has tended to be localized and intense, Jamison said. So some areas have received little to no rain, while in other areas, where the rainfall is intense, much of the water runs off before it can soak in.


While there have not been widespread reports in central Maine of wells going dry, Ed Bowie of Bowie Bros. Well Drilling Inc. of Farmingdale has been getting calls about wells being drawn down because homeowners have been watering their lawns.

“If you have a well that produces a gallon a minute, you can run a household on that,” he said. “But when you start watering a lawn, you can pump a well down so there’s no water in it. You can shut the breaker off and let the well recover, and then you’ve got water again.”

Dan Woodward of Bowie Bros. Well Drilling Inc. of Farmingdale, climbs out of a basement Tuesday after checking the pipes for water service to a newly tapped well in Pittston. Years of working outside and beneath homes all day has made Woodward a fan of the current conditions. “I like it dry,” he says. Despite the hot, humid conditions, Woodward says emergency calls for water are rare. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

For Bowie, the difference between this dry period and the severe drought in the early 2000s is the type of wells people have.

Two decades ago, he was getting calls from people with shallow, dug wells that relied on groundwater. When the groundwater dried up, so did the wells. Drilled wells are deeper, reaching water stored in underground rock formations that make up aquifers, and the supply of water tends to be steadier.

“What I am noticing, and my water treatment guy is noticing, is water quality is changing,” Bowie said. “There’s a lot more odors and a lot more staining, and that’s a sign the water table is dropping in the bedrock.”

Bowie advises those who want to water their lawns to do it at night for about a half-hour to allow wells to recharge overnight.


Stephen Dyer, 10, cools off Thursday in a sprinkler watering the North Street soccer fields in Waterville. Stephen and his teammates from the Mid Maine Dolphins swimming team are taking a break from the pool. “It’s too hot out to do anything else right now,” says Kyle Bauer, head coach of the Dolphins. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“I don’t personally water my lawn, because I don’t want it to grow,” he said. “When it grows, you have to cut it.”

Jamison said the outlook is for more of the same.

In the short term, warm and humid conditions are expected across the area, with rain predicted for Sunday and Monday, followed by a period of cooler, drier air next week.

Jamison said it is too soon to predict where and how much rain might fall.

Over the longer term, a normal or above-normal snowpack this winter or steady, light rain that is able to penetrate the ground should improve conditions next year.

“Warming winters have been showing up in the climate trend,” Jamison said. “It is concerning if we get into a pattern or if the trend is going to be consistently where we’re starting to see warmer winters, which could favor more conditions of drought developing in the summertime.”

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