The spillways at Gulf Island Dam, foreground, between Lewiston and Auburn, are dry as the water level in Gulf Island Pond, background, and some areas of the Androscoggin River are at record lows for this time of year. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

After a hot, dry spring, federal authorities declared a moderate drought Thursday for most of the Androscoggin and Kennebec river watersheds as well as northern New Hampshire and Vermont.

National Integrated Drought Information System pegged 27% of Maine as experiencing a moderate drought. Two-thirds of the state is abnormally dry, it said.

It hasn’t helped that Maine has seen temperatures 8 to 12 degrees above normal in the past week, though cooler weather arrived Thursday.

At water level measuring stations along the Androscoggin and its tributaries, many recent days have seen levels lower than they’ve been for the same date in the past. All of them are seeing water levels “much below normal.”

On Thursday alone, record lows for June 10 were seen on Nezinscot River in Turner, the Sandy River in Madrid, the Swift River in Roxbury, the Wild River in Gilead and at monitoring stations along the Androscoggin at Rumford and at both Gorham and Cambridge in New Hampshire.

Maine has been watching conditions closely since mid-April when it brought together its Drought Task Force to monitor developments.

The federal government said that in a moderate drought, irrigation use increases, hay and grain yields decline and fire dangers rise. Abnormally dry conditions lead, among other things, to wilted gardens and brown lawns, authorities said.

Since March 1, central Maine has been particularly dry. Dark red is a low level of precipitation while dark green is a high level. Northeast Regional Climate Center

The state last had a serious drought in 2016, but starting last summer, precipitation has been less than normal and temperatures are generally above their normal range.

The Northeast Regional Climate Center said that spring snowfall “was below normal for the entire Northeast, with the largest deficits of as much as 24 inches” seen in several locations, including Maine. It was also warmer and much drier in the region than usual, the climate center said on its blog.

Early in June, the task force said that “abnormally dry conditions continue to persist and expand” in the state, but they had not reached drought conditions. It said there has been “a substantial deficit in precipitation for this time of year,” which has only worsened in recent days.

The state panel said that as of June 3, the Androscoggin River basin behind the Gulf Island Dam was 77% full, more than 15% below the long-term average for the same time of year.

Water managers at dams, it said, “are preparing plans to reduce flows from the storage reservoirs below licensed minimums” in response to the growing problem.

The dry conditions are impacting more than just surface waters.

U.S. Geological Survey shows Thursday that Maine is far more parched than the rest of the northeastern part of the country. National Water Dashboard

The Maine Emergency Management Agency plans to begin a dry well survey on June 17 to document the need for dry well assistance across the state. It said that some dry wells had been reported in Cumberland and Aroostook counties.

While conditions are worsening, there is still plenty of time for enough rain to fall to keep any dire consequences at bay.

Parts of the Southwest are experiencing an exceptional drought and most of the western states are coping with abnormally dry conditions that are worse than anything Maine is facing.

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