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Experts urge Massachusetts residents to conserve water amid drought

It's time to turn off the sprinklers (like these shown in Belmont last month) to conserve water during the drought, according to environmental advocates.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Plants are wilting, rivers are running dry, and brush fires are breaking out. Massachusetts has experienced drought conditions since early July with no end in sight, raising concerns about water supplies and spurring calls for conservation measures.

For those trying to maintain some semblance of a lush, green lawn through the heat waves, it’s time to turn off the sprinklers and accept the scorched-brown grass, advocates said.

“All water is connected. So when you use less of it, especially in a drought, it means that there is less competition for rivers,” said Julia Blatt, the executive director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance. “The lawns can do without for a while.”

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Boston has received less than an inch of rainfall within the last month while the drought is considered critical in the northeast and central parts of Massachusetts.

Blatt said rivers are running are far below normal, with some tributaries of the Charles River at record lows or completely dried up.

To conserve water during dry spells, Blatt said the state needs to improve its drought management. The rivers alliance is lobbying for legislation that would authorize the governor to mandate statewide restrictions on outdoor, non-essential water use in certain circumstances.

“There are ways our state can better manage a drought,” Blatt said. “I think for each person, it’s important to do what they can. But it really takes a cultural change.”

Besides letting lawns turn brown, Blatt said residents can conserve water by buying more efficient appliances, from toilets and dishwashers to washing machines, sinks, and showerheads. According to the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, water-efficient appliances cost more upfront but use as much as 50 percent less water, quickly making the investment worthwhile.

Ria Convery, a spokesperson for the MWRA, said if people decide they have to water lawns or vegetable gardens, they should do so at specific times of day.

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“If you really have to water something outside, you do it really early in the morning and late at night,” Convery said. “Otherwise, [the water] will just evaporate and you won’t get any benefits from it.”

Letting lawns turn brown may seem like a defeat. But avoiding unnecessary outdoor water use is the most effective way to conserve water, Blatt said. For those who want to maintain a pristine lawn, Blatt suggested replacing grass with native plants.

“Native plants don’t tend to need as much water. They’re adapted for our climate,” Blatt said. “That way you have a very beautiful landscape outside of your house. ... It’s not a thirsty, boring green lawn. It’s more interesting plants.”

Convery said she hopes the drought will encourage residents to think of water as a precious, finite resource. She suggested small actions, such as turning off the water when handwashing dishes or brushing your teeth.

“We want people to be aware,” Convery said. “I mean, it’s so simple to just go turn on the tap and water comes out that you don’t even think about it. We just want to make sure that people appreciate that.”


Katie Mogg can be reached at katie.mogg@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @j0urnalistkatie