Most Jersey reservoirs are now at normal levels, but drought warning remains
Over the past two months, rainfall totals in New Jersey have been in the normal- to slightly-above-normal range, and reservoir levels have been rising.
Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said for the most part, we are now in pretty good shape, with the Combined Northeast Reservoir storage, Suez Water reservoir system, the North Jersey reservoirs and the Jersey City reservoirs now at normal levels, in the 80 percent capacity range.
The Newark reservoirs are at slightly below normal levels, a little below 70 percent.
Nevertheless, the state’s drought warning for 14 Central and North Counties and drought watch for four others in the South-Central part of Jersey remains in place.
Hajna said when determining whether a drought warning or watch is necessary, the DEP considers several factors including stream flow and shallow groundwater supplies, precipitation patterns and reservoir levels, and at this point everything looks positive, “so we’re crossing that line and we’re inching out of this thing but we still want to err on the side of caution.”
He stressed “there’s really no harm in leaving in place a drought warning at this time of year because demand goes down significantly anyway.”
Hajna said in order to things to go back to normal, by the time spring starts in five weeks, “we’d like to see reservoirs 90 or even 100 percent full.”
He noted the rise has been very sharp due to a combination of good precipitation — of the steady soaking variety.
“Not too much at one time, and another important factor is the sound reservoir management that our companies and the operators of the reservoirs are implementing," he said.
So when might the drought warning be lifted?
Hajna said DEP drought experts are constantly monitoring the situation and “at some point they will confer with Commissioner Bob Martin, and then he’ll make a determination” to end or extend the warning.
Hajna said it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to lift the drought warning right now because “as we all know weather is unpredictable, and we could hit a sudden dry spell in the winter — and it has happened before.”
He said rainfall statewide was about 6 inches below normal last year, and we don’t want to repeat that in 2017.
Hajna said if reservoir levels continue to slowly rise and we’re in the 90 to 100 percent range by the start of the spring season, it’s likely “we would see the warning lifted at some point.”
“We want to make sure all of the regions in the state under a drought warning are on a pretty even footing, and there are still a couple of systems that could show more improvement, so I guess the bottom line is there’s all sorts of possibilities on the table, but everything is pointing in the right direction," Hajna said.
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.