SALEM, N.H. — The dry weather is causing town officials to limit how often residents can water their lawns.

The restrictions apply to people whose homes are on the town water system. Violators are subject to fines of hundreds of dollars, town officials said.

Selectmen have restricted the hours when watering by sprinklers is allowed, as Salem and other southern New Hampshire towns deal with what the state describes as moderate drought conditions.

Residents can run sprinkler systems to water their lawns only between midnight and 10 a.m. on odd-numbered days as of June 25, according to the order by selectmen. The sprinkler systems include devices that residents can attach to the end of a hose and place on the ground, and irrigation systems that are installed in the ground and run automatically.

Anyone who breaks the rule is subject to a warning on the first offense, a $100 fine on the second offense and a $500 fine on subsequent offenses, with the possibility of having the water to their home shut off.

Residents are still allowed on any day or at any time to manually water lawns, gardens and flowers with the use of hand-held devices like a watering can or holding a watering hose, said Salem Municipal Services Director Roy Sorenson.

The restriction involving sprinkler systems comes as New Hampshire has had unusually dry weather and water use by residents has increased because people are home more often due to the COVID-19 crisis, Sorenson said. 

Sorenson had a meeting Wednesday with officials from the state Department of Environmental Services, which announced southern New Hampshire is in a moderate drought with less than average rainfall during June, he said. The drought, paired with above-average water consumption in Salem, caused Sorenson to recommend water use restrictions, he said.

Salem typically uses about 2.9 million gallons of water per day in June, Sorenson said. This month, however, the town is using an average of 3.65 million gallons per day, as many businesses are closed and people are staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sorenson said. Over the past week, water use has risen to 4.6 million gallons a day, he said.

More people at home results in extra water use by residents, Sorenson said.

"All of our numbers (for New Hampshire towns in the region) for water demand is through the roof," Sorenson said.

Selectmen ordered the water use restriction in a unanimous vote Wednesday night at a special meeting.

There was a brief rain shower in Salem Wednesday, but "we need more than that," Sorenson said.

Some water from the Southern New Hampshire Regional Drinking Water Line is set to start flowing to Salem next week, Sorenson said. The additional 300,000 gallons per day will help alleviate some stress that's been added to the town's water system through additional use, he said.

The last time Salem implemented water use restrictions was in July 2016 when the water in Canobie Lake was about a foot lower than it is currently, Sorenson said. 

"Thank you for taking restrictions into consideration," Salem resident Tanya Donnelly said when she called into Wednesday night's selectmen meeting, which residents could view online and call by phone to offer comments. "The lake (Canobie) has dropped considerably in the last month."

Last week, state officials encouraged New Hampshire residents whose homes have private wells to conserve their water usage as well because of the dry weather. 

Tom Hawley, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said the weather is expected to remain dry for the next few weeks. He said significant rainfall, unlike the brief showers that happened recently, are needed to break the cycle. 

"We need several inches of rainfall over a few days to get out of this," he said.

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