DORSET >> Moderate drought conditions have prompted town officials to declare a water emergency and issue restrictions on water usage by residents and businesses.
According to Jim McGinnis, water operator for the Dorset Fire District, the main culprit is the lack of rain over the past few months.
"We haven't had any consistent rain for a long while," McGinnis said. "When it doesn't rain on a regular basis, guess what happens — there's less water."
Water restrictions set by Dorset Fire District No. 1 on users of the Dorset public water system prohibit all outside water usage including washing cars, watering lawns and topping off swimming pools. During the water emergency, system users are also asked to conserve indoor water usage in all households and businesses.
The water emergency went into effect on Monday, Sept. 19, when the water in Dorset's reservoir was found to be 20 inches below normal.
McGinnis said the reservoir is down by about 15 percent.
The system depends on five different natural springs, he said. Production from the springs that supply water to the reservoir has dropped from 95 gallons per minute to 85 gallons per minute.
"Recent rains have not been enough to recharge the system," McGinnis said. "And it can take up to two weeks for rain to have an effect on the reservoir level."
According to John Quinlan, a meteorologist with the Albany, N.Y. office of the National Weather Service, data gathered at the Bennington Airport shows that 23.65 inches of rain since Jan. 1 2016 are more than six inches below normal.
As a result, he said, the northeastern sector of Bennington County is experiencing moderate drought conditions, as is much of New England.
Along with less rain, the area has seen higher average temperatures during June, July and August of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly two degrees higher than normal.
Violators of the water emergency restrictions will receive a verbal warning for the first offense and a $300 fine for a second offense, according to information provided by the fire district. If violations continue, the Dorset Fire District has the right to turn off the violator's water for the term of the water emergency.
"Households and businesses on the water system need to understand that this is a critical situation," said Ben Weiss, chairman of the Dorset Fire District prudential committee. "Everyone must do their part to conserve water, in order to allow the system recharge."
There are 201 households and businesses on the public water system. The system of natural springs feed a 205,000-gallon covered reservoir. Water from the reservoir is gravity fed into the village.
Officials of Manchester, adjacent to Dorset, noted that the water supply there is not showing a shortage.
"We monitor the system closely," said John O'Keefe, Manchester town manager. "We have a much different system compared to surrounding towns."
The town system pulls water from a deep well in the middle of the valley, on Union Street. The pump is capable of pumping 600 gallons per minute.
"We also have two very large water tanks, 850,000 and 550,000 gallons, that supply water and water pressure to the system," O'Keefe noted. "The combination of equipment and location make the Manchester system a little easier to manage during droughts. Our water department employees and town engineer, though, are keeping an eye on the system."
Meteorologist Quinlan said the forecast shows mild rainfall on Friday, and then more dry weather for at least 6 to 10 days.
McGinnis said it would take a good, soaking rain with at least 1 1/2 inches of rainfall, and about 10 days to recharge the system.
He added that such as occurrence is not unusual.
"This has happened before," he said. "The rains will come."
For more information on the water emergency, call 802-375-4021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.