Governor Charlie Baker announced Thursday the creation of a loan fund to help family farms and small businesses get through what officials have said is the state’s worst drought in decades.
The fund, operated by Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp., will provide up to $1 million in “micro-loans” to affected businesses, Baker’s office said in a statement.
“Like the emergency loan fund we launched following record snowstorms, this Drought Emergency Loan Fund will provide affordable working capital to small businesses grappling with the aftermath of extreme weather,” Baker said in the statement.
The loan announcement came as officials in Worcester and some surrounding communities, citing worsening conditions, said they would begin implementing new water-use restrictions, including on giving tap water to diners in restaurants and on outdoor watering.
The emergency fund will provide loans between $5,000 and $10,000, according to Larry Andrews, president of Massachusetts Growth Capital, who said the corporation will rely on local partners to determine which businesses are in most need of the aid.
“Our team will provide prompt review of each application and work to help local farmers in need,” he said.
When the corporation set up a similar fund for businesses affected by record snowfall two winters ago, it gave out $350,000 in loans and had no delinquencies or losses, Andrews said.
He said he hopes the drought fund will have similar success.
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton said the fund would help get some farmers through the year.
“It’s not earth-shattering, but it can give this critical level of capital to folks to help them get by,” Beaton told the Globe. “That million dollars is probably going to go quick.”
The Drought Management Task Force met Thursday morning to assess how much the state’s dry conditions have worsened since its last meeting in August.
The task force recommended that Beaton change the drought ranking in the southeastern part of the state from the “watch” category to the “warning” category, and shift Cape Cod and the islands from “advisory” to “watch.”
Beaton said through a spokesman that a decision would come soon, possibly as early as Friday, on whether to upgrade the state’s response.
“This is one of the more significant droughts that we’ve had,” Beaton said. “It’s sort of an unprecedented time and we haven’t seen anything like this in decades.”
More than 170 towns and cities in the state have issued either voluntary or mandatory restrictions on water use, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.
The city of Worcester issued a Stage 3 Drought Emergency on Thursday after the reservoir system that serves that city, as well as Holden, Paxton, and parts of West Boylston, was 55.1 percent full as of Sept. 1, according to the city’s website, with the average for that date being 81.7 percent full.
“The situation is getting very serious and we are now at the point of deciding which water uses have priority,” the city said on its website. “All outdoor water use is now banned. Water users are asked to find alternative water sources whenever possible.”
Residents in those communities were banned Thursday from all outdoor watering, except for using a watering can to water plants by hand, and from using water to wash cars, clean driveways, decks, and sidewalks, or filling swimming pools, the city said.
The low levels of water in the system, including the Quinapoxet and Pine Hill reservoirs, triggered the city’s Drought Contingency Management plan, resulting in the declaration, according to the website.
|Town||Public Water Supplier||First Restriction Implemented||Restriction Level|
|Abington||Abington/Rockland Joint Water Works||8/15/2016||1 Day or Less|
|Acton||Water Supply District of Acton||5/1/2016||1 Day or Less|
|Adams||Adams Fire District||8/15/2016||1 Day or Less|
|Amherst||Amherst Water Dept.||7/25/2016||1 Day or Less|