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Planning for Water Needs
It is uncommon for drought to significantly impact Maine because of typical precipitation levels, the state’s ground water hydrology, and a relatively low statewide demand for water compared to available resources. However, this does not mean that Maine is immune to water shortages.
Maine experienced a drought for the first time in 14 years in the summer of 2016. A lack of snowfall during the winter of 2015-2016 and continued precipitation deficits during the year as well as higher-than-normal temperatures contributed to the drought conditions. As of December 2016, 426 dry wells had been reported across the state and farmers were experiencing problems with irrigation and livestock feed.
A drought from 1999-2002 caused 17,000 private wells to run dry in the 9 months prior to April 2002, and farmers lost more than 32 million dollars in crop production between 2001 and 2002 (1999-2002 USGS report, "Drought Conditions in Maine, 1999-2002: A Historical Perspective" (Lombard, 2002)).
The key to addressing a water use emergency (too much or too little) is to plan ahead!
Don’t Waste Water
- Make sure plumbing for your home and farm buildings is leak-free.
- If you are on public water: When you are certain that no water is being used, take a reading of the water meter. Wait 30 minutes and then take a second reading. If the meter reading changes, you have a leak!
- If you have a well: Check your pump periodically. If the pump turns on and off while water is not being used, you have a leak.
- Repair dripping faucets. One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year!
- Don't pour water down the drain: Use it to water your indoor plants or garden or flush the toilet.
- Use rain barrels or cisterns to capture roof runoff for later use.
- Even out your use of water over the day. If you have adequate water but not much more, this can help prevent a temporary shortage, and damage to your pump.
Improve Soil Health
A healthy, resilient farm starts with healthy soil. Contact your local Soil & Water Conservation District or local NRCS Service Center for assistance and recommendations on soil health practices.
Water Management Planning
Whenever you begin to look into starting or expanding irrigation on your farm, start with developing a water management plan. A plan, on paper, will help you understand your water needs, timing of water use, and the size of the storage or well capacity you may need.
We strongly suggest you review the NRCS resource, a sample draft management plan, which has a good template to follow when developing your own water management plan. You can enlist the help of your local Soil & Water Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service office in your county. For larger projects, you may want to consider contacting a consultant, private contractor or irrigation equipment supplier.
Permitting New Sources of Water
Building a pond may require environmental permitting. NRCS outlines the typical irrigation pond permit application process. The application review will usually involve either the Maine Department of Environmental Protection or, in unorganized territories, the Land Use Planning Commission to ensure that the pond construction will not adversely affect wetlands or intermittent streams. These agencies also coordinate with the federal Army Corps of Engineers on regulatory compliance; the Corps’ Maine Project Office is located at 675 Western Avenue #3, Manchester, ME 04351 (207-623-8367). Working with these agencies is also important to stay in compliance with the 1985 Farm Bill’s “Swampbuster” provisions which can prohibit any federal financial assistance on farms that have filled wetlands.
Complying with the Low Flow Rules
If you are planning to withdraw water from a surface water body, you may need to comply with the DEP low flow standards (Chapter 587 of the Maine State Rules). You can also contact Mark Hedrich at (207) 287-7608 or email at Mark.Hedrich@maine.gov to get further information on the standards and what it will mean for your farm.