Though droughts aren’t nearly as rapid or dramatic as floods, Mainers are learning that ongoing lack of rain can be as disastrous as surging waters. Now wells are drying up and municipal sources are scrambling to meet demand – showing why Maine would be better off addressing the risk of drought before it occurs instead of taking eleventh-hour action during an ongoing crisis.

News coverage has focused on the last six months of below-average rain in Maine. But this is a dry spell that’s been several years in the making. The lack of rain last year, combined with the lack of snow last winter, has left us more parched than we’ve been in 15 years.

Groundwater levels are nearing the low point reached during the region’s last serious drought, from 1999 to 2002. During that 14-year gap, Maine took no official action in anticipation of the next dry spell. It wasn’t until August that the Maine Drought Task Force, made up of public safety officials and state and federal weather experts, met to discuss the current drought.

That’s because, like many states, Maine responds to droughts after they occur rather than planning ahead to reduce the impact of the next drought. Elsewhere, [URL]mostly in the West;http://drought.unl.edu/planning/droughtplans/StateDroughtPlans.aspx[/URL], according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, states look at past drought impacts, develop early warning plans and promote steps that cut water waste, such as fixing leaks in public supplies and encouraging growers to manage their farms in a way that retains water in soil.

This approach, known as “mitigation,” can cut the costs associated with drought, saving $4 for every $1 spent, [URL]according to;https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/12305?id=3031[/URL] the Federal Emergency Management Agency. One example cited by the Drought Mitigation Center is assistance to farmers: After the fact, it costs more and doesn’t necessarily reach the people who need it.

This is not to belittle the response in Maine. The state Drought Task Force is now meeting regularly, and the Maine Public Utilities Commission recently started assessing whether the state needs a statewide emergency water supply plan or if measures being taken by public water systems are doing the job.

But with evidence accumulating on behalf of the preventive approach, Maine should embrace proactivity instead of waiting for the next slow-motion disaster to unfold.


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