By Brenda Flanagan
Take a look at the Oradell Reservoir. United Water’s Steve Goudsmith points to cracked earth.
“Certainly this would be all covered with water, now it’s just about barren, completely dry. You can see through here that we have very low levels in the reservoir, less than 50 percent at this point. You can see the geese in the distance. They’re kind of sitting on a sandbar. They would be swimming on top of that,” said Goudsmith.
Check the reservoir’s gauge: water should completely cover the white bottom layer. It’s proof that just three to four inches of rain fell across northeast New Jersey over the past couple months, and not just at Oradell. This summer storage levels at 13 different reservoirs range below average across northeast New Jersey.
“In 90 years of historical data this is the fifth driest August ever. And there’s no rainfall in sight, and demand for water continues to be very very high,” said Goudsmith.
United Water customers sucked up 400 million gallons more than last August, he says, and the company is now asking its customers to restrict water usage. Without appreciable rainfall, moderate drought status will officially be declared in northeast and central New Jersey by the end of this week, according to climatologist David Robinson.
“You can go several weeks without much rain and have very warm temperatures, and all of a sudden the grass that was green is brown. The rivers that were flowing pretty well are flowing much below average and people start putting water on their lawns and the reservoir levels start plummeting,” said Robinson.
“Weather reports comes on and they say, ‘Another string of seven days of sun’ and I’m like, ‘Rats! We need the rain!'” said Allendale Councilwoman Jackie McSwiggan.
Allendale’s one of several northeast Jersey towns where officials activated water use restrictions. No car washing allowed here, and lawn sprinklers operate on odd-even schedules during specific hours. Violators face fines.
“There’s a little bit of neighborly pressure. People comment to one another, ‘Oh, I saw your lawn sprinkler going this morning!’ or ‘It’s not your day!'” said McSwiggan.
“Voluntary conservation is really going to help. If customers can conserve water wherever they can that would be the best route at this point. We really do want to avoid mandatory restrictions,” said Goudsmith.
The last time New Jersey saw a real drought crisis with mandatory statewide restrictions was back in 2002. We’re nowhere near that — yet — but state climatologists say, its going to take a regular pattern of soaking rains to recharge these reservoirs.