Despite recent rains, drought continues

‘This has been the driest six-month period on record in the last century.’

By: Melissa Morgan
   Despite a moist March that drizzled the South Brunswick area with some extra precipitation, residents shouldn’t assume that the drought has ended. In fact, experts say that water conservation will be extra important for the township during the spring and summer seasons.
   "We are still in a serious drought emergency," said Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection. "In March, we had a little above 4 inches of rain, which is still below average. On top of that, we would need 2 more inches every week for the next four weeks to be anywhere close to average."
   Dave Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist at Rutgers University, said the state received 4.26 inches of rain in March, a little above the 4.17-inch statewide average for the month.
   "We were barely above average," he said. "And this is the first month that we have been above average since last June and the third above average month in the last 18 months."
   Mr. Robinson said that in the previous six months, 10 inches of rain fell statewide, 12 inches below normal rainfall.
   "This has been the driest six-month period on record in the last century," he said."
   Ms. Makatura said that while the previous month’s rain did help raise reservoir levels, all water restrictions remain the same, and people should voluntarily do anything they can to conserve water.
   Donna Peterson, a spokeswoman for Elizabethtown Water Co., which supplies water to South Brunswick, suggests turning off the water while shaving, making sure the water level in laundry is matched up with the load and taking shorter showers.
   "Every little bit counts," she said. "Summer is critical because people use a lot more water, and we want to get them prepared early."
   While Ms. Peterson stressed the importance of being prepared for more dry weather, she said that restrictions for residents in South Brunswick’s are pretty lenient compared to other parts of the state.
   "Our restrictions are less than surrounding areas and our sources are sufficient right now," she said.
   As part of the Central Drought Region, South Brunswick must follow an "odd-even" schedule. According to the state Web site, this means that lawn watering can occur on even numbered days on the side of the street with even numbered street addresses, and on odd numbered days on the side of the street with odd numbered street addresses.
   Larry Merk, the director of utilities in South Brunswick, said that while lawn watering is allowed, people should be careful when using water around the yard in other ways. The state Web site said current restrictions forbid people from using water to wash paved surfaces.
   "I see a lot of people with hoses washing their sidewalks off," he said. "They can just take a broom and do the same thing."
   The state also allows township’s to water athletic fields between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., but Tom Morris, the South Brunswick director of recreation and community affairs, said the town relies on rain alone to take care of all parks and fields.
   "Our watering system is just through the weather," he said. "We haven’t been in a situation where we have had to water it yet, but we plan to monitor the fields and pay close attention to the turf so they don’t become hard and worn out. "
   Local farmer Bob Von Thun said his own fields are in good shape right now, but he hopes that additional rain during the spring and summer seasons can help his harvest. Because agriculture has an exemption on water restrictions, he said he will be able to water his crops using a drip irrigation system.
   "I don’t have that much planted yet, so I haven’t had to use the irrigation, but after April, it usually starts to get even dryer," he said. "I just have to keep planting like I normally do and hope for the best."
   Mr. Von Thun said he must rely on predictions and hope to get him through a drought, but Mr. Robinson said that New Jersey’s irregular weather patterns make the process even harder.
   "The summer season is even more unpredictable because of things like tropical storms," he said. "But any season in New Jersey is affected by influences from all different directions."
   While experts said rules for watering lawns are not very strict in South Brunswick, residents still must follow many other regulations, including statewide restrictions on washing cars, serving water in restaurants and clubs and filling pools.
   Doug Gildenberg, president of the Willows Swim Club, said that last season marked the first year that the club covered the pool instead of draining it.
   "We were really lucky, but we did have some foresight," he said. "We realized there was a way as a club to conserve and even though we weren’t in a drought at the time, we went through the expense of doing that because we wanted to be conscious of water conservation."
   Mr. Gildenberg said filling the pool as needed throughout the season shouldn’t be a problem and the club will open as planned on Memorial Day.
   Al Stanaway, a partner at Major Car Wash on Route 1, said some people have a problem remembering that his business always stays open, even in a drought. He said that most car washes don’t have restrictions because they use a system that allows them to recycle up to 95 percent of the water they use.
   "People assume because we are a car wash, we are not open because they assume we are under the same restrictions," he said. "They also won’t go to car washes because they think it will help them cut back on using water, but people are not aware that we use less water at a car wash than they do at home. While a professional car wash might use 12 to 35 gallons per car, people use, on average, 80 to 140 gallons at home."
   Ms. Peterson said that even though people usually use more water throughout the summer to do things like wash cars, water lawns, and fill pools, it is more important than ever for residents to conserve in the upcoming months.
   "The recent rain has helped the drought from getting worse, but it will take a lot more rain to get back to normal," she said. "Right now, we have enough water, but we need to be securing it for the long-term. If we don’t get back to normal, we will be looking at another drought next year."
   More information on the drought, including a complete list of statewide and area restrictions is available at or (800) 4-ITS-DRY.