AUGUSTA — Maine officials may consider calling a state of emergency if drought conditions continue to worsen, Maine’s emergency management director said Thursday morning during a meeting of the state’s Drought Task Force — the third such gathering of the group this year.

The drought conditions have grown more severe, spreading north and east since the group last met in early September.

“We’re not yet in a state of emergency, but if conditions continue to worsen, we may have to consider that,” said Bruce Fitzgerald, director of Maine’s emergency management agency, in a news release following the meeting.

Before it can consider calling an emergency, Fitzgerald said in an interview, the state needs to collect more data from agencies such as the Maine Drinking Water Program, the Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Agriculture to determine the full extent of the drought’s effect on drinking water supplies, farms and other resources.

“We know that it’s very dry and we know that it looks like the weather forecast isn’t going to improve anytime soon, but I don’t think we have a true picture of the issues around the state,” Fitzgerald said.

On the same day the task force met, the state housing authority also announced it was making $250,000 available to income-eligible families whose potable drinking water is seriously affected by the drought.

“Funds are limited and are available on a first come, first serve basis to help those households with an immediate need for relief,” the agency wrote in a news release. “Funds will be used for well repair, replacement or recovery measures only for those homes for which the lack of potable water is due to the recent drought. Affected households can contact their area community action agency to determine their eligibility and to schedule an appointment to apply to have their well inspected for damage specifically brought on by the drought and a determination of the best course of action to provide relief.”

A list of community action agencies and telephone numbers is available at www.mainehousing.org or by calling 211.

Almost the entire state is experiencing some sort of drought, a member of the U.S. Geologic Survey said at the Thursday meeting, with groundwater levels for most of Maine lower than they’ve been for much of the last 11 to 35 years, and with particularly dry conditions in the southern two-thirds of the state.

With the exception of Aroostook County, all counties in Maine have experienced a deficit of precipitation since April, according to a member of the National Weather Service. The forecast is calling for drier, warmer-than-normal weather for October and beyond.

“The drought is expected to continue and expand,” said Tom Hawley, of the National Weather Service in Gray. “September rainfall was well below average for the entire state. Many locations in southern Maine received less than one inch for the month.”

Some municipalities and districts around the state have imposed restrictions on how much water residents can use.

For now, however, the state task force has just recommended that people conserve water in a number of ways: taking shorter showers, not running water while brushing teeth or shaving, fixing leaky sinks and toilets, running full loads of laundry and dishes, avoiding peeling vegetables under running water, discontinuing outdoor watering unless absolutely necessary, using as little water as possible when washing cars.

“Although conservation measures are voluntary at this point, it’s important that everyone take steps to conserve to help prevent worsening conditions,” Fitzgerald said.

Those experiencing dry wells or other drought-related problems should call 211 or visit 211maine.org, a statewide resource for a variety of health and human services issues.

A state of emergency is most often declared after severe weather such as hurricanes that cause widespread power outages, Fitzgerald said, but Gov. Paul LePage does have the authority to call one in a drought.

Before a state of emergency is called, officials would consider what legal authority they have and what aid the state or federal government can provide, whether through the Maine State Housing Authority, U.S. Department of Agriculture or other programs, Fitzgerald said.


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