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NJ water companies alarmed as drought dries reservoirs to record lows

woman holding glass at water tap and filling water.

We did get some rain and snow last week, and there’s more precipitation in the forecast over the next several days, but 14 New Jersey counties remain under a drought warning and four others have a drought watch declared by state environmental officials.

In response, water companies across the Garden State are stepping up conservation efforts and warning that their water-saving suggestions might become mandatory later this year.

“It’s easy for people to forget about drought conditions during the winter, when outdoor water usage is dramatically cut, but reservoir levels are lower than they were last year,” said Billie Gallo, spokesman for New Jersey Suez.

She noted current demand for water isn’t nearly as high as it was over the summer, “but the dry conditions we’ve been experiencing have really taken a toll of the reservoir levels and they’re simply not where they need to be.”

Gallo pointed out the Oradell reservoir in Bergen County is at about 62 percent capacity, compared to 69 percent a year ago at this same time, and in 2015 it was at 72 percent. “So this is something we’re keeping a very close eye on right now.”

She also said “the greater concern isn’t where we are today, it’s really where are we going to be in the spring when high demand season starts again.”

Gallo stressed Suez is reminding customers to try and conserve water whenever possible.

“Conservation can mean running washing machines and dishwashers only at full capacity or taking a shorter shower. They might sound silly or sound like they don’t make a difference, but they do. During drought conditions every drop counts, and everybody can play a part,” she said.

Donald Shields, vice president of engineering at New Jersey American Water, said voluntary conservation messages are being posted on their website and customers are also being urged to use water wisely in printed material they receive through the mail.

He said during all times of the year “we try to encourage folks to use water wisely, make sure their irrigation systems are used in such a way that they don’t water every day.”

Shields stressed New Jersey American Water is working closely with the state DEP to more efficiently manage their water resources because the Spruce Run Reservoir is now at about 37 percent of capacity and the Round Valley Reservoir is now about 67 percent of capacity.

“Those are historically low numbers so we are encouraging people us water wisely,” he said.

“I”ll be frank with you, sometimes people are a little bit reluctant to conserve because they like to have water, run their showers, but we’re just trying to encourage people to be careful. The more we can do to help preserve the water in the reservoirs, the better off we’ll be come springtime.”

If the reservoirs don’t fill up by April, both companies say they’re ready for a possible drought emergency declaration.

“If things don’t improve by spring we would need to consider mandatory conservation measures, the things we’re asking customers not to do now would be mandatory, and that would be instituted in conjunction with state and local authorities,” said Gallo

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