Earlier this year, parts of New Jersey were under a drought watch. The watch was discontinued in March, but the state Department of Environmental Protection could soon issue a new one, perhaps in the next few days.

“The DEP is monitoring conditions very carefully,” said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

He said that over the past three months, precipitation has diminished “quite significantly,” with parts of the state getting 35 to 45 percent less rain than normal.

“In several North Jersey areas streams that replenish the reservoirs are extremely dry. They’re dropping on a steeper curve than our normal drop in the summer,” he said.

Hajna said rainstorms at this time of year tend to be of the hit-or-miss variety — not heavy, soaking rains, “so unless we get tropical rains or a really good deluge we are inching closer and closer to a watch and we could see a watch soon.”

According to the DEP a drought watch is declared when conditions begin to adversely affect water supply conditions. A watch indicates that conditions are dry but not yet significantly so, and the DEP is closely monitoring indicators, such as rainfall, stream flows and reservoir and ground water levels, as well as water demands.

The watch designation is designed to encourage the public to conserve water, and also to alert water-supply professionals so they can keep a close eye on conditions and update contingency plans in the event that dry conditions continue or worsen.

If dry conditions were to persist, Hajna said, a drought warning could then follow.

The DEP describes a drought warning as a non-emergency phase of managing available water supplies during the developing stages of drought. The DEP commissioner can order water purveyors to develop alternative sources of water or transfer water between areas of the state with relatively more water to those with less. Mandatory water use restrictions are not imposed under a warning, but the public is strongly urged to use water sparingly in affected areas.

Hajna said some of the most consumptive use of water is the watering of lawns, shrubs and flowers.

“People tend to over water and we do have guidelines on this — two times a week for your lawn and landscaping for 30 minutes,” he said.

He said the DEP will be reviewing drought data indicators in the next day or so, and after that a decision will be made about a possible drought watch.

While the least rain has fallen in North Jersey, we’ve slightly below normal levels in Central Jersey and above-normal rainfall totals in extreme South Jersey — in Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem Counties — according to Hajna.

He stressed we just don't know what the future holds.

Dave Robinson, the state climatologist at Rutgers University, agrees.

“During the summer there is no real way to project the amount of rainfall that will hit a particular region, or even a municipality,” he said. “One side of town versus another can differ by several inches when it comes to an individual storm or storms over a couple of days.”

He stressed “we don’t see a tropical storm on the horizon which can give you a summertime soaking, so we’re going to have to rely on the frontal passages to give us showers and thundershowers.”

Robinson said we're at the hottest time of the summer, which increases evaporation rates.

"So that makes any rainfall not go as far as it would at another time of the year. We really have no margin for error right now, we have no surplus sitting there," he said. "We’re really going to have to rely on timely and abundant rain showers, and right now we don’t know what Mother Nature will give to us.”

If the hot, dry conditions continue into the fall, it is possible New Jersey could face a drought emergency. This type of declaration would be aimed at reducing water use, and a phased approach to restricting water consumption is typically initiated. Phase I water use restrictions usually involve non-essential, outdoor water use, like watering lawns and car washing.

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