Although this summer’s consistently dry, sunny weather has been great for outdoor recreation, the lack of rain has a significant downside for the health of the public water supply. Officials in states around the region have been speaking out about the risks of the water shortage and the need to rein in water use. Given the potential economic and enviromental impact of the expanding drought, Maine should do the same.

Throughout the northeastern U.S., states are feeling the impact of a second year of below-average rainfall, compounded by a mild winter and lack of snow. In the hardest-hit areas — southern Maine, southern New Hampshire, western New York and Massachusetts — conditions are dryer than they’ve been in the past decade. (A lot of snow fell in the winter of 2014-15, but it wasn’t very moist.) As a result, the risk of wildfires is up, and lawns and crops, including blueberries and corn, are languishing.

Because of the ongoing lack of precipitation, a drought watch has been issued for northern New Jersey, much of Massachusetts and all of New York state. More than 120 Massachusetts communities have put water restrictions in place. So have at least 70 municipalities and public water providers in New Hampshire.

This is the kind of response that Maine needs to launch for our state to weather the water shortage. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, over 611,000 people live in the Maine counties most affected by the drought, including Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, York and Sagadahoc.

But our state hasn’t taken the collaborative approach needed to tackle such a big problem. In New Hampshire, for example, the state is prepared to call stakeholders together to develop a drought management plan if there’s no relief in the next few weeks. And Massachusetts’ Drought Management Task Force has already been meeting; they’re the ones who declared the drought watch there.

Maine had a Governor’s Drought Task Force in place during the state’s last drought, in 2001 and 2002, including representatives of federal, state and private-sector agencies that deal with water issues. Convened in August 2001, the task force met regularly throughout the following winter and spring and issued reports during and after the crisis. But the only evidence of the group now is a link to a page of water-saving tips on the Maine Emergency Management Agency website.

The dry, hot weather that has caused the Northeastern water shortage isn’t going away anytime soon, forecasters say. It’s past time for Maine officials to recognize this reality and step in to keep it from getting any worse.

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