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Severe Drought Bedevils Maine

Gov. Angus King is working on a plan to conserve water amid a severe drought that appears likely to persist in the weeks ahead.

Already, the drought has forced some people to drill new wells, if they can find someone to do it, or take steps to save water. Some farmers are worried their livestock won't survive the winter without a reliable source of water.

"The situation is not good," said Lynette Miller of the Maine Emergency Management Agency. "We are in a state of severe drought heading into the winter, and water problems that exist now are likely to persist into the winter."

A month ago, stream flows and groundwater were at or near record low levels. Precipitation levels so far this year are 35-45 percent below normal across Maine, said meteorologist Tom Hawley of the National Weather Service.

A drought occurs when the precipitation levels over a 12-month period are 15 percent or more below normal.

"This may work out to be among the top five or six driest years since 1871, when records began," Hawley said.

Light rain that fell late last week did little to ease the water shortage. Multiple rainfalls over a long period are needed to break a drought, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Boothbay Harbor and Castine have imposed water-conservation measures, and officials in Calais, Island Falls, New Portland, Winter Harbor, East Millinocket, Monson and Port Clyde have asked for voluntary conservation, said Tony Sprague, spokesman for King.

The dry pattern, which is most severe in Maine from Boothbay to Eastport, is not due to an extraordinary meteorological event like El Nino, experts say.

The drought is simply due to the lack of rain the state has received since summer.

"Storms are missing us," said Gregory Zielinski, the state climatologist.

As dry weather continues, so many private wells are going dry that drillers can't keep up with the demand for new wells.

Buxton well-driller Arthur D. Tompson Jr., who has 40 people on his waiting list, said, "Wells are drying up left and right. We're doing the best we can to help everybody, but there's only so much we can do."

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