BOSTON >> The state's top environmental official on Friday expanded the scope of the state's 71-day-old drought declaration and elevated the southeastern part of the state to a drought warning status, one step shy of a drought emergency.
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton also raised Cape Cod and the Islands to a drought watch, up from the drought advisory level. The rest of the state remained unchanged from August's drought declaration.
The secretary's actions make official the recommendations made Thursday by the Drought Management Task Force.
"While regions within Massachusetts have experienced intermittent rainfall, it will take several precipitation events before the Commonwealth will fully rebound from the effects caused by this year's drought," Beaton said in a statement. "With today's drought declaration, the elimination of outdoor watering by residents and businesses around the state is needed to avoid stressing drinking water reservoirs, which will ultimately exacerbate the situation."
Cities and towns that fall under the drought warning category — the central, southeastern and northeastern parts of the state — should ban all outdoor water use, EEA said.
Municipalities in the drought watch category — the Connecticut River Valley, and Cape Cod and the islands — should limit outdoor water use to handheld water outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. And the towns under a drought advisory — western Massachusetts — should limit outdoor water use to one day a week, EEA said.
"With widespread drought conditions continuing into September, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is asking the public, including households and businesses that draw water from private wells, to conserve water by reducing indoor and outdoor water usage," MEMA Director Kurt Schwartz said in a statement. "Immediate action by the public is necessary to help address the falling reservoir and ground water levels in many areas of the state."
Massachusetts has been under its own official drought declaration since July 1 and the arid conditions have been blamed for contributing to wild fires, an outbreak of gypsy moths, higher rates of ant infestation, smaller than usual apples, loss of crops, a shortage of cattle feed, and an elevated population of mosquitoes able to carry West Nile virus.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, a collaboration between federal government agencies and educational institutions, on Thursday morning released its latest drought classification map, which showed little change since last week's update.
Nearly a quarter of the state's area — the most populous parts of the state, too — remain in the "extreme drought" category and another 54.7 percent of the state is classified as being in a "severe drought."
The Drought Monitor this week expanded the portion of the state under its "moderate drought" classification further into Berkshire County, knocking the percentage of the state that is not by the monitor's standards in a drought to less than 5 percent.