AUGUSTA — The unusually dry weather this summer has prompted a Thursday meeting of the state’s Drought Task Force, where experts will discuss the potential for fall fire danger and dry wells.

This is the first time the task force — which includes public safety officials and weather experts from a variety of state and federal agencies — has met in the last couple of years, said Sean Goodwin, director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency. It will be discussing potential risks from the dry weather, including the drying up of wells and a heightened chance of wildfires in fall.

“There’s been no need for a number of years for the state’s task force to meet, because we haven’t had an issue,” Goodwin said. “We’re getting so we have an issue. We are in the beginning steps of a drought. Things are dry. They always get dry, but not this dry.”

For the emergency planners convening Thursday in Augusta, the problem is that the dry summer — which followed a dry winter and spring — has left groundwater levels depleted in central and southern Maine, particularly for this time of year.

The U.S. Geologic Survey monitors wells across the state, including ones in Poland, Sanford and Augusta that currently have low water levels, said Nicholas Stasulis, a hydrologic technician in the agency’s Maine office. Poland and Sanford’s were the lowest on record for the month of July, Stasulis said.

“I have a feeling Augusta will soon be measuring the lowest water levels we’ve seen for August,” he added.

Not all the sites monitored by the agency have had such low levels, and far northern Maine actually has above-normal levels of ground and surface water, Stasulis noted. The agency’s data also doesn’t reflect the levels of moisture in soil.

Still, he said the current drought conditions in the southern two-thirds of the state are significant and worsening.

“Groundwater tends to be lowest in the summer-fall period,” he said. “We would be naturally receding anyways at this point in the year, but if we don’t get any precipitation, it’s going to be a lot lower than normal. If we don’t get any sort of recharge, in the form of significant fall storms, those water levels will remain low through the winter.”

When the groundwater levels drop, one of the risks is that wells will run dry.

Goodwin, the Kennebec County emergency management official, said he has not received any reports of that happening so far this summer. However, he added, “people are putting pressure on their wells, with watering, or livestock, or raising crops, or even just Joe homeowner keeping his garden.”

Ed Bowie, the owner of Bowie Bros. Well Drilling in Farmingdale, said he has received three calls this summer from homeowners whose wells have been losing pressure, he said, which can happen when groundwater levels are depleted. It’s a particular risk for homeowners who have shallow wells that were dug into the sediment, as opposed to deeper wells drilled hundreds of feet into the bedrock, Bowie said.

“Those guys who depend on rainfall are hurting,” he said, referring to the people with shallower wells.

Bowie said he received no such reports of low well-water pressure last summer.

Because the homeowners who called this year couldn’t afford to have deep wells drilled, he recommended they look into federal rural development programs that might be able to defray the costs of such an investment.

But Ted Rolfe, who runs the Rolfe’s Well Drilling company and often partners with Bowie on projects, downplayed the risks of the current drought conditions to local well owners.

“Most people in Maine conserve water anyhow,” he said. “For those people who don’t water their grass, and they only use water inside the house for domestic issues, you shouldn’t have any issue at all. You just don’t want to fill the swimming pool or run the hose for hours.”

For the time being, it’s not clear whether the dry spell will break.

“The pattern that we’re in has been a dry pattern, generally speaking,” said Bob Marine, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s forecast station in Gray. “We don’t really foresee any major changes in that.”

Heavy rain typically falls when two separate jet streams that normally hover above Canada and the southern United States move toward each other and meet, Marine said. But while those two streams have met this summer, he said, it’s always been in the mid-Atlantic, and the resulting storms haven’t made it to Maine.

Augusta received just 1.96 inches of rain in July, according to meteorological data collected at the Augusta State Airport. That’s down 43 percent from the capital’s average recorded rainfall in July of 3.42 inches, Marine noted.

Portland has been similarly dry, Marine noted. The southern Maine city has an average recorded rainfall of 3.61 inches for July, but received just 1.7 inches this year.

While a round of precipitation can be expected every few days, including one this weekend, Marine went on, “it’s hard to predict any kind of major (rainstorm) all the way to September.”

Part of the purpose of Thursday’s meeting in Augusta will be for emergency planning officials to hear long-range weather forecasts from meteorologists and determine what steps to take if things remain dry, Goodwin said. Depending on the discussion, state emergency management officials could issue a warning about the dry conditions, he said.

In the event of area wells running dry, Goodwin said officials also will discuss potential sources of water. In the past, some Kennebec County residents who have lost their water have gone to nearby fire departments — such as the one in Augusta — that are on a municipal water supply, as opposed to a well.

“We can’t make it rain,” he said. “The rain dance just doesn’t work, but you can take what resources you have and just use them more wisely.”

Fire departments also will be on guard against dry conditions heading into the fall, when vegetation starts dying and the fire risk becomes greater, Goodwin said.

The task force will meet 9 a.m. in Augusta.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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