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Tue March 12, 2002
Drought Waiting Game
By Suzannah Gonzales
WRNI – After a mild winter, state officials are preparing a drought. Along with several other east coast states, Rhode Island has had one of its driest falls and winters in the past century. Now ground water levels are at their lowest in some areas of the state, and farmers are getting worried.
In South Kingstown, farmer Susan Soznowski says there's something wrong with her rye crop. "That looks like it usually does in November. It hasn't changed any. That was planted probably late September, October. And usually by now, it's all filled in, you can't see any dirt at all. It's very lush by this time of year, even with winter. But it's very sparse, as you can see, you can see soil everywhere. And here we are in March."
Soznowski has been farming with her husband since the early eighties. "I've never seen a winter this dry. Ever. I am very concerned, but then again I have a lot of faith that it will rain. It will rain sooner or later," she said.
Some farmers are reporting significantly lower pond levels than normal. Alan Hill, a fruit grower in Johnston says his pond is at least three feet below its normal level. "It shouldn't be that way. It should be up to where we're standing right now. So what is that three feet, at least three feet, down below what this should be? That land there should be flooded. It's all swamp. It should all be under water," Hill said.
The drought of 1999 caused an estimated ten million dollars in damages to Rhode Island farmers. Weather experts say conditions are worse now.
In Richmond, the lowest groundwater level in more than a decade was recorded at the end of February. Without some rain in the next few months farmers may not have enough to maintain their crops.
Rhode Island received only about sixty percent of its normal precipitation between August and January. State officials are particularly concerned about South Kingstown, Wakefield, and Narragansett where water levels are fourteen feet below normal.
Paul Sams, the General Manager of the state water resources board says although the Scituate reservoir is down seven feet, it has enough water for the next three years. If conditions become worse Sams says water can be moved from one part of the state to another through underground pipes reserved for emergencies.