Western Massachusetts continues to experience a prolonged drought this year. With the Town of Amherst issuing mandatory water conservation measures and a drought watch in effect for the state, there are bound to be questions about what the situation entails. The following are a few of the misconceptions about the ongoing drought and information about what has been taking place.
Myth: The entire state is almost out of water.
Fact: Massachusetts is experiencing unusually dry conditions across the entire state. As a result, Massachusetts’ Energy and Environmental Affairs has issued a drought watch for Western Massachusetts. These warnings are triggered when precipitation, groundwater, streams and reservoirs have spent more than six months below normal levels. The EEA has asked that local governments monitor their systems, continue to assess conditions and put into place plans to educate the public on conservation efforts.
Myth: The College or the town is running out of water.
Fact: We are not running out of water. There is plenty of safe water in the system, including a suffcient emergency backup supply, as long as conservations efforts continue. The town relies on two reservoirs, a primary well and four backup wells to provide safe drinking water. The reservoirs are now at a point where the water level is too low for sanitary use, so more of the backup wells have come online. The town has asked that area residents and colleges do their part to conserve to keep emergency water supplies for the unlikely event of a large structural fire or water main break.
The Town of Amherst is more severely impacted by drought than other local communities due to the influx of students and faculty (a population increase of around 35,000 between all the colleges) in late August and early September. This puts more pressure on our system and means this community must be more conscious of water use in the fall.
Myth: The water is not safe to drink or use.
Fact: There has been no change to water quality. The Town of Amherst is taking steps to make sure water quality continues to be safe to use and continually monitors the existing systems. The College is also committed to water quality and safety and has a quantity of drinkable canned water on hand in the unlikely event of an emergency.
Myth: Amherst College is on the brink of closing campus.
Fact: The College is operating under heightened awareness. We have an ongoing campaign to educate the campus community about water use and are employing conservation measures. Measures we’ve implemented include: Limiting the irrigation of grass and athletic fields, prohibiting the washing of College-owned vehicles, delaying grass planting on the Greenway and adjusting dust-control strategies on campus construction sites. The Town of Amherst reports that the area colleges are doing a great job conserving water and have stayed below the threshold of water use. This means that there is enough water for all emergency and non-emergency systems.
Myth: The air conditioning systems around campus have been turned off or changed to conserve water.
Fact: None of the air conditioning systems have changed in response to the drought.
Myth: Bathrooms, such as in the Greenway, have been shut down due to the water shortage.
Fact: Keeping bathrooms working is a sanitary necessity. As with all new buildings, the Greenway Residence Halls have experienced a few hiccups in the first weeks of being used. Facilities staff have been responsive to these problems, and occasionally have needed to temporarily turn off the water to one of the Greenway bathrooms to make a quick fix. These are routine maintenance calls and are not related to water conservation efforts or the drought.
Myth: Despite the water shortage, Amherst College has been using town water to maintain trees, grass and other plantings.
Fact: The College has been using water tankers, with water supplied from South Hadley, to control dust and erosion around ongoing construction. Drip irrigation on newly planted shrubs around the Greenway Residence Halls prevents erosion on the surrounding hillsides. A small amount of town water is being used to water plants and trees that cannot be watered through other methods. The College has not purchased additional plants and has delayedo other plantings since the town began water restrictions, but is maintaining existing plants at a minimal level. Grass seed will be planted at the beginning of October, but no town water will be used to place the seed or to irrigate the seed after it is sown.
Myth: The athletic fields are receiving too little or too much water.
Fact: The athletic fields are being watered to preserve them for future years and to make sure they are safe for play by our athletes. This is not tank water, but it is on an as-needed basis. Water is being brought in from other areas to water the slope above Memorial Field and for dust control on active construction projects. All of these activities fall within the limits of the mandatory outdoor water use ban by the Town.
Myth: A day or two of rain will be enough to end the drought and the need for conservation.
Fact: Short of a tropical storm or hurricane, we will most likely not see enough rainfall to end the drought by wintertime. The College continues to closely monitor the situation, in partnership with the Town of Amherst, and will notify the community when the need for water conservation ends.