Despite possibly beneficial rainfall predicted for the Berkshires over the next several days, the county has a long way to go before recovering from the moderate drought that has engulfed the region, according to the weekly update provided by U.S.government agencies.
Based on data collected through Tuesday, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed Thursday morning that drought conditions that severely impacted much of the Midwest and Southwest are spreading steadily eastward, covering Western and Central Massachusetts as well as portions of upstate New York.
At least two-thirds of the continental U.S. is now experiencing moderate to exceptional drought, according to the Drought Monitor, with significant damage to corn, soybeans, pasture and rangeland from California to upstate New York.
So far this year, as recorded at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, 16 inches of precipitation have fallen as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, about 60 percent of the normal total.
Restrictions approved by the Selectmen that took effect Thursday bar all non-essential outdoor water consumption, including sprinklers and open hoses, said Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler. Hand-held watering is permitted only before sunrise and after sunset. All use of automatic sprinkler systems is prohibited.
"We’re going to need a lot of rain to make up for what we haven’t got," Fowler said. "We definitely have suffered. As everyone
Town Manager Gregory Federspiel noted that the area had not seen a significant soaking rainfall for the past seven weeks.
"It doesn’t make sense to use very valuable drinking water to make your grass green," Federspiel said. "Let your grass go brown for a little while. It’ll come back when the rains come back."
He added that "it will make a huge difference on our water consumption. People are using a lot of water to sprinkle their lawns. It’s just not necessary, not a good use of a precious resource."
New underground water sprinkler systems utilizing municipal water have been banned for the past two years in Lenox. But older, "grandfathered" systems are included in the newly announced restrictions.
Fines are $50 for the first violation and $100 for each subsequent offense.
Earlier this month, Pittsfield banned unattended use of sprinklers using city water between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Dalton asked residents for voluntary curbs, while Hinsdale declared a water emergency and imposed restrictions on sprinklers.
New England has been spared the brunt of the drought, considered the worst in the U.S. since 1956.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Thursday that 55 percent of the nation’s pastures and rangelands were in poor to very poor condition. Crop losses, especially corn, have become massive in the Midwest and the Plains, forcing ranchers to liquidate herds. The USDA predicts price hikes of 5 percent for corn, beef, chicken and many other foods.
A total of 1,369 counties in 31 states are officially declared drought disaster areas, according to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In Massachusetts, Vermont, New York and Connecticut, at least 80 percent of topsoil is rated short or very short of moisture, the agency stated.
According to the Weather Channel, newly added areas suffering the most severe drought conditions are slightly larger than the states of California and New York combined.
Many drought regions have suffered from scorching heat. So far, 2012 is the hottest year ever recorded in the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose records go back to 1895.
The U.S. Drought Monitor is a joint project of the USDA and NOAA.