Metro

Drought in Massachusetts has ended

Water levels at the Cambridge Reservoir in Waltham today (left) were much higher than in September.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Water levels at the Cambridge Reservoir in Waltham today (left) were much higher than in September.

The state on Thursday declared an end to the two-year drought that sucked the moisture out of Massachusetts, stunting crops, parching lawns, and leaving some communities turning to backup sources for drinking water.

Energy and environment Secretary Matthew Beaton announced that he had lifted drought protections that covered most of the state, a move that came on the same day that the US Drought Monitor announced that Massachusetts was free of abnormally arid conditions for the first time since March 2015.

The monitor, a collaboration of academic and government officials who track conditions across the country, said the cool, wet weather that has hovered over the Northeast this spring had finally vanquished the lingering effects of the prolonged dry period.

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“We’re heading in the right direction with all this rain, and all this damp, cold weather,” said Frederick A. Laskey, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, whose reservoirs have been recovering in recent months after falling to their lowest levels in years.

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So far this year, Boston has gotten more than 18 inches of rain, about 2.5 inches higher than normal. And more rain is on the way, with a heavy storm threatening to wash out Mother’s Day celebrations on Sunday.

As dismal as that forecast might be, the raw spring weather provided comfort to many in the worlds of water resources and agriculture who have been wearily watching the skies since 2015.

Alan Dunham, a meteorologist in the Taunton office of the National Weather Service, said the chances are promising for more rain as May continues, and longer-term forecasts suggest that rainfall levels will remain around normal through July.

“This is great weather for growing grass,” Dunham said. “This is the kind of weather that plants like to start off with and . . . get ready for the spring and summer.”

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Vandana Rao, acting state director of water policy, encouraged residents to continue to conserve water. It wouldn’t take too much of a dip in precipitation levels for the state to begin to dry out again, she said.

“We just want to be more cautious and careful, especially because we had such a significant drought this time around,” Rao said.

Though the state has lifted the drought advisory, which had covered all but the westernmost part of the state and called for increased government monitoring, dozens of communities still have water use restrictions in place.

Both Rao and Laskey credited water conservation as a major factor in getting the state through the challenging period. The Quabbin Reservoir is now 86 percent full, up from 79 percent last December.

Consumption of water from the MWRA has dropped significantly since the 1980s, Laskey said, and it is now around 200 million gallons per day, well below the safe limit of 300 million. That margin gave the authority leeway to provide water to communities like Cambridge, whose supplies waned as the drought continued.

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That might not be possible if residents do not use water responsibly, he warned.

“Water is the most precious of the resources out there — the most important. There is no reason to waste water,” he said. “Frankly, while we feel good about all the rain and where we’re going, you never know.”

Amid the driest, hottest stretches of last summer, many people saw their lawns and gardens wither. That may have had an effect on the way people are thinking about their yards this year, according to Chris O’Brien, landscape designer at Howard Designs in Newton.

“Many people are more sensitive now to the needs of some plants, and we have clients that specifically ask for more drought tolerant gardens,” said O’Brien, who added that concern about watering appeared higher in communities that instituted restrictions.

He said there’s been more interest in plants, like succulents, that are accustomed to arid climates, and less interest in thirstier annuals. It remains to be seen whether those trends will hold now that the drought has ebbed. He’s seen interest in new designs increase with the rainfall.

Farmers said they are optimistic that this season will be better than last year. Not only did the region avoid the damaging cold snap that damaged the fruit tree crop early in 2016, but the season has begun with much wetter soil

At Indian Head Farm in Berlin, Tim Wheeler had decided by mid-May last year that the dry weather would cost him his corn crop. He didn’t have enough water left in the farm’s pond to be sure he’d be able to water it all season, so he focused on other products.

This year, he’s optimistic about his water supply. Now, Wheeler is just waiting for it to get warm. The chilly weather recently has slowed the growth of his asparagus, and might also affect the schedules of the bees he depends on for pollination. But Wheeler, whose family has been farming the property since the 1830s, said he’s prepared for whatever Mother Nature might bring.

“She’s in control, so we’re sort of humbled by the way in which she’s in charge,” he said. “We appreciate the fact that that’s not going to change, and we just need to find the way to work most effectively.”

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.