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Driest July in Hyannis recorded since 1893

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Massachusetts Drought Monitor Task Force
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Massachusetts has experienced 97 wildfires in the month of August so far, many of which are concentrated in the eastern and central part of the state amid a sustained and potent drought, according to a chart Chief Forest Fire Warden Dave Celino presented to the state's Drought Management Task Force on Tuesday.

Barnstable County officials say that the drought status on Cape Cod is expected to rise to level three, when the state recommends that all non-essential water use is banned.

Cape Cod Commission water resource analyst Tim Pasakarnis says that since February, the Cape is five inches below normal precipitation levels.

“That’s a significant amount of rainfall that’s needed just to get back to average for this time of year," he says. "And so just on a precipitation standpoint, we’re in that extreme drought category.”

Pasakarnis says that a weather station in Hyannis recorded the driest month of July since 1893.

He says the lack of rain puts a strain on drinking water supplies, although there isn’t necessarily a concern about running out of water, as groundwater levels are only somewhat below average.

“But it does create potential issues of meeting this peak demand form the seasonal population," he told Barnstable County Commissioners on Wednesday. "And that could be a concern about meeting pressure for things like fire response.”

Meanwhile, the water analyst says there have been ten wildfires reported on the Cape since August 1, out of nearly 100 wildfires reported across all of Massachusetts. Drought conditions give rise to a greater threat of fire.

County commissioners say they are concerned for the farming industry, especially cranberry growers that depend on flooding their crops in the fall to harvest the berries. They discussed creating an internal committee to help find resources for farmers that could be impacted.

And there was also concern that fire departments are properly equipped and firefighters are trained to handle wildfires.

The drought also coincides with many municipal water districts having to close down major wells out of concern for PFAS contamination, the so-called forever chemical that has been linked to thyroid damage and some cancers.

Several communities including Yarmouth and Chatham recently have had to shut down wells due to contamination.

With a drought, more residents are watering brown lawns, which puts a further strain on water infrastructure.

County Commissioner Ronald Bergstrom said that residents need to help keep pressure levels at normal levels.

“If the price of gas was 10 dollars a gallon, all of us would find ways to cut down on our gas use," Bergstrom said at Wednesday's meeting. "And in a situation like this, just a small commitment by the residential population to try and use as little water as possible would make a big difference.”

At least ten water districts on the Cape have already implemented mandatory watering restrictions, including Harwich, Falmouth and Chatham.

Sam Houghton has been with the station since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.