AUGUSTA — State officials and experts said Thursday they would begin a public information campaign about smart water use, but stopped short of putting any water restrictions in place to combat unusually dry conditions this summer.

The State Drought Task Force convened for the first time since 2002 because of what has been called “significant drought conditions” throughout the southern two-thirds of the state, conditions officials said are only expected to get worse. The U.S. Drought Monitor website on Thursday listed the upper part of central Maine as being under “abnormally dry” conditions and the lower part of the region as having a “moderate drought.”

Bruce Fitzgerald, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said the agency’s website will offer water-saving tips to help people get the most from the water they are using.

“For people who have gardens, they can water it early in the day and maybe for only a few minutes,” Fitzgerald said. “They need to be aware when they’re doing laundry that it’s a full load of laundry and to just be aware and smart.”

Fitzgerald said they’d be working with their partners around the state to make sure their constituents know what they can do to mitigate the damage caused by a drought.

Lack of rain isn’t the only thing contributing to the conditions around Maine. Fitzgerald said officials have been watching water conditions for several months, since the annual River Flow Advisory Commission meeting in March, because below-average snowfall last winter meant there wasn’t a lot of snowmelt.

Tom Hawley, of the National Weather Service forecast office in Gray, said because most places had half of their normal snowfall, the snow melted about four weeks early and the groundwater wasn’t recharged as much as usual.

Hawley said he expects the drought conditions to persist and continue through the summer.

“I don’t see any real changes in the outlook, and it looks like we’ll continue to be dry,” he said. A current La Nina watch for the fall and winter means Maine could continue to be drier than normal throughout the winter.

Nicholas Stasulis, a hydrologic technician for the U.S. Geologic Survey in Maine, said wells across the state, including those in Sanford, Poland and Augusta, have very low water levels. He said Poland and Sanford’s were the lowest on record for the month of July.

“We are where we are in part because we started with a very low snow pack at the end of March,” Stasulis said. He added that the agency is comfortable with the data’s accuracy.

Stasulis said real-time surface water data shows basins in the northern part of the state are closer to normal, and there are short periods of normal water flow statewide because of localized rain. But, he said, thunderstorms or other local rain have little effect on groundwater, if any at all.

With conditions continuing to get drier, officials are worried about the increases in wildfires and the availability of water to fight them, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said he hasn’t heard of any individual wells going dry, and if there have been some, they haven’t been reported to MEMA. Roger Crouse, of the Maine Drinking Water Program, cited reports of low levels in some wells, but he has not seen any reports of dry wells.

A chart of the average rainfall at measuring stations throughout the state provided at the meeting shows significant drops in precipitations across Maine over the last three, four and six months.

Augusta received 7.17 inches of rain over the last three months and 9.41 inches of rain since April, about 3.5 and 5.05 inches below normal, respectively. Sanford has had the biggest drop, with 8.42 inches less rain than normal over the last four months.

There is no telling when the conditions will improve, and because of that, Fitzgerald wants the task force to meet monthly, unless conditions worsen enough to require meeting more frequently.

“We need everybody to chip in, because none of us can make it rain,” he said.

The state had even worse conditions in 2001-02, when about 17,000 private wells went dry in the nine months prior to April 2002, and more than $32 million in crops were lost in 2001 and 2002.

“People remember that drought and remember how dry it was then,” he said. “We’ve had beautiful weather, and it’s been a great summer, but that means we haven’t had a lot of rain.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ