The 1998-1999 Drought in Vermont


August 18, 1999

The rains and cooler temperatures that have so far characterized the month of August have brought some relief across our drought-affected state. However, these recent rains may have come too late for large sections of our agricultural community who have already suffered heavy losses of hay, corn and other crops. In some cases, farmers have already begun to use their winter supplies of hay. In others, livestock water supplies have been severely depleted or become non-existent. A more complete weekly description of field conditions can be found at the Vermont Forage Report of the University of Vermont Extension Service

The southern and in particular, the southeastern parts of the state continue to be the most severely impacted regions. The topography, soil type and moisture available during critical stages of plant growth have combined to determine whether drought stress on crops has resulted in their complete failure or stunted growth. In some of the more fortunate counties such as Caledonia, Essex and Franklin, corn and other crops continue to flourish.

Apart from agriculture, drought impacts are becoming increasing more common in shortfalls of drilled/dug wells and other activities that rely on groundwater supplies. Stream and rivers levels monitored by the USGS continue at lower than normal levels, while the height of Lake Champlain (as measured at the King Street Ferry Dock) also continues to fluctuate at low levels.

One sector which has benefited from the dry conditions has been the grape industry. However, the nature of the impacts of the drought on this year's fall foliage is yet to be determined. The leaves of some deciduous trees have already begun changing colour, while other water-stressed leaves continue to dry and shrivel before falling.

Rain-harvesting strategy

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac one of the ways of coping with drought is to use a rain barrel. This involves using a large barrel or large container to catch the precipitation flowing off gutters or roofs. One Jericho resident has implemented a rather sophisticated version of this idea to supplement the water supply from a shallow well. Figure 1 shows the collection of water as it runs along the gutters attached to the roof. A garden hose attached to the gutter runs down the side of the house and into a barrel from which a drip hose exits for watering perennials. Another collection system consisting of a plastic pipe that funnels into a downspout (through some clematis flowers) feeds into the first of two 32-gallon buckets. Mulching has been used to decrease both watering needs and loss of evaporation from the soil. The designer of these rain harvesting systems has observed that a rain event that produces 0.1" (2.54 mm) caused the two-barrel set-up to overflow, while the other solitary bucket (with the downspout) filled with about 12-13 gallons of water. For more information including permission to use these photos, please contact the Vermont State Climate Office.