VScope
12/05/01

DROUGHT

Drought is a natural hazard, always has been - but there is no question that population growth, expansion into rural/marginal areas, and the subsequent development is overtaxing water supplies and heightening vulnerability to drought in certain parts of the United States.

Increasing demands on water have resulted in the depletion of ground water reserves in many areas, which can make the removal of additional water uneconomical if not impossible, especially during a drought.

The highest severity rating on the drought index (Palmer Index of Drought Severity) is Extreme Drought. New Jersey is now shown as a Severe Drought state on national (DOC/NOAA) weather maps.

The current NJ drought had its beginnings in 1998 and , despite Hurricane Floyd's memorable excesses, water levels are now dangerously deficient in The Garden State.

Last month the NJDEP issued a drought warning to all of Sussex County. If water levels do not improve this month, the state may declare a drought emergency.

Here in Vernon, surface water and ground water appear to have been greatly diminished this year, and the surface water decreases typical of every autumn do not help matters.

Meanwhile, a disquieting number of household wells have already gone dry or are in immanent danger of going dry. Residents on community wells owned by private water companies ( United Water in parts of Barry Lakes, for instance) have been living with urgent water restrictions and trucked-in water since August.

At present some Vernon households are already undergoing enormous hardship, anxiety and expense because they have no more water. It must be maddening for these residents to endure the comments of local officials who insist that nothing unusual is going on, and who say the township has no cause to believe that more wells than ever are going dry.

Reports of troubled wells are anecdotal - many property owners are at pains to keep their wellwater troubles off the record, sensing that The Authorities would only heap more coals on an unbearable situation. Financially straitened homeowners may fear getting sucked drier than their wells by a host of inspections, permits and contractors. Some mortgage-payers, lacking wellwater and lacking funds to pay the aforementioned host of expenses, may struggle along in hopes of a lucky reversal. Some may try to sell. Faced with confiscatory expenses, some may finally just walk away from their homes.

Licensed well drillers in our area are working six days a week - reportedly, some have hundreds of "jobs" backed up and are reluctant to take on any more at present.Similarly, licensed well and pump companies are barely keeping up with demand for their services (lowering pump depths, installing "pump-techs," etc.) One estimate of the number of wells in serious trouble hereabouts ranges from 30 to 50 according to one wellwater tradesmen, who noted that Highland Lakes and Pleasant Valley Lake are areas of great concern at present.

Water is a finite resource. Like all of our region's natural infrastructure systems, it requires careful maintenance and long term planning. Unless NJ's residents insist upon regional planning and consensus, more of our neighbors- and eventually the water supply - will be casualties of the local government turf wars known as "Home Rule." Our water supply, the lifeblood of our living atmosphere, should not be at the mercy of this Balkanized style of government.

Water is a necessity. Its supply should not be under local officeholders' control as political "Home Rule" capital to boost the fortunes of real estate developers. It should not be unilaterally diverted or pumped or managed to suit the immediate plans of one town's favored enterprises in disregard of the long-term impact on households and businesses in the rest of the community, or in disregard of other towns sharing the same natural water systems.

A threat of drought should cause every Jerseyan to realize that it is within the public's power to insist on long-term, regional water conservation and planning.

It is truly said: the first abuse of power is not knowing that you have it.


Here is some important general info from the U.S. Geological Survey:

The water level in the aquifer that supplies a well does not always stay the same.

Droughts, seasonal variations in rainfall, and pumping affect the height of the underground water levels. If a well is pumped at a faster rate than the aquifer around it is recharged by precipitation or other underground flow, then water levels in the well can be lowered. This can happen during drought, due to the extreme deficit of rain. The water level in a well can also be lowered if other wells near it are withdrawing too much water.

The water level in a well depends on a number of things, such as the depth of the well, the type (confined or unconfined) of aquifer the well taps, the amount of pumping that occurs in this aquifer, and the amount of recharge occurring. Wells screened in unconfined water table aquifers are more directly influenced by the lack of rain than those screened in deeper confined aquifers. A deep well in a confined aquifer in an area with minimal pumping is less likely to go dry than a shallow, water-table well.

If you own a water-table well and you pump excessive amounts of water from your well, there is a danger of your well going dry as consumption continues and ground-water levels fall.

Since aquifers can be quite extensive, the usage of your well can influence other people miles away.

Ground water that supplies your well also feeds streams during periods of low flow, so pumping from your well may also cause the water levels in streams to be lower.

All of the water that we use in our homes comes from either a ground-water source, such as a well, or from a surface-water source, such a river, lake, or reservoir.

Precipitation falls on the Earth's surface and eventually adds water (recharge) into an aquifer. This water may be pumped into your home from a well that taps into the aquifer. If your water source is a reservoir, precipitation and other surface water collects in the reservoir. This water is piped to homes from a public supplier.

See also: Hydrology of Drought

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