Most people associate heat waves and long stretches of dry weather in the summer with drought, but for communities in the Finger Lakes and Western New York — it’s taking on a different look as winter approaches. The U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday, December 7 shows ‘abnormally dry’ conditions across the entirety of the region with worsening conditions lurking to the west.
Cayuga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tompkins, Wayne, and Yates counties are all experiencing what officials designate ‘D0’ or abnormally dry conditions.
Drought by the Numbers
For a small sliver of Ontario County, and all of Livingston County things are worsening. Approximately 5.7% of Ontario County is designated D1 or experiencing Moderate Drought. Meanwhile, in Livingston County — 97% is experiencing this classification — as nearly 30% is labeled D2 or Severe Drought. This represents no change over the last two weeks, but represents a near-doubling of territory experiencing Severe Drought.
Three months ago no portion of Livingston County was in Severe Drought. There are two classifications that run higher than this, though. Extreme Drought and Exceptional Drought — the rarest of classifications used by the Monitor — have not been tapped.
The last time Livingston reached ‘Extreme Drought’ designation was in September 2016 when coverage peaked at 100%. This extreme designation lasted from mid-August through early-October that year. By mid-December Drought levels subsided. For 2023, Livingston County has been dealing with drought conditions since June. Neighboring Wyoming County has been dealing with near-mirrored conditions this year; and experienced a similar stretch in 2016-17.
The line between Abnormally Dry and Moderate Drought stretches from the eastern portion of Monroe County and extends south through Livingston and a slice of Ontario counties. It clips small portions of northern Steuben and Allegany counties.
Water Crisis in Bethany
Little more than a week ago, RochesterFirst.com reported a ‘dire situation’ in the town of Bethany. The Town is working with the state Office of Emergency Management to dispense water to residents because of a water shortage.
A water shortage brought on by these ongoing drought conditions.
Residents were filling up 250, 300, and 500-gallon totes to bring water to their homes. Photos and video on social media circulated in the days that followed. This was news for the community-at-large across the Finger Lakes, but just another day for Bethany residents.
As of late-November, over 50 homes, businesses, and dairy farms have seen their wells run dry. That figure, town officials say, is increasing by the day. It’s a situation that’s left dairy farms trucking in 60,000+ gallons of water per day, and left everyday residents filling up 250+ gallon totes on a regular basis to keep their toilets flushing and faucets running … in 2023.
Town Supervisor Carl Hyde Jr. told RochesterFirst.com that the situation is dire and that some wells may never recover. He says they need several inches of rain over a long period of time, or several feet of snow over the winter to allow a spring thaw to impact the water table. But the latter is months away — so for now, hopes of an impactful rain are where residents see relief.
Relief from the Clouds
There is some rain in the forecast this weekend.
A soaking rain is expected Sunday, which will be followed by colder temperatures and some light snow. It will help modestly, but that’s all.
Let’s put it this way: Even if these communities receive an inch or two of rain in the next 48 hours along with some accumulating snow — it won’t change the situation on the ground. It certainly won’t change the situation in communities like Bethany.
Sustained rain over a period of days is what’s necessary for communities struggling with a water emergency to see the drought snapped.
Stay tuned for more on this story as we catch up with Supervisor Hyde in the coming week.