Drought and Drinking Water
Catherine V. Schmitt
Drought and Drinking Water
Thesis: The Effects of the 2001-2002 Drought on Maine Surface Water Supplies
Drought is not usually considered a problem in a state with thousands of lakes, thousands of miles of coastline, extensive river systems, and one-quarter of its land area covered by wetlands. Yet as 2001 evolved into the driest year in Maine’s recorded history, rural homeowners were struggling to find drinking water as wells went dry, and public water systems already stressed by summer tourists were implementing conservation measures.
How drought affects water supplies, and in turn how managers of those systems respond to drought, provides an indication of how predicted climate changes might affect public water supplies in the future. This project will use historical climatic data, water level records, and water quality data to evaluate the sensitivity of surface water supplies to drought conditions. By identifying relationships between water quantity and water quality, it might be possible to determine critical minimum amounts of precipitation necessary to maintain adequate supplies of drinking water. The results will identify public water systems most at risk from drought conditions, and will enhance public water suppliers’ ability to predict and prepare for future drought and climate variability.
This research is part of "A Pilot Project to Assist Small Water Utilities in Protecting Maine Surface Waters Used as Public Water Supplies," a collaborative project with the Maine Drinking Water Program and Maine Water Utilities Association. Earlier phases of the project developed a source water and watershed management program to help community water suppliers understand the quality of their source water and assess the risks posed to water quality within the source watershed. The need for Phase III, "Preparing for Climate Change and Variability," emerged while completing Phase II work during the record drought of 2001. It was apparent that small utilities need guidance to effectively deal with drought, and to understand the magnitude and impact of other potential climate-related changes.
Before moving to Maine I worked as a research assistant at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, where I assisted in the research, writing, editing, and production of scientific publications. One of these was Marine Pollution in the United States- Significant Accomplishments, Future Challenges, a report of the Pew Oceans Commission. I also worked on the forthcoming Chesapeake Futures.
Previous experience includes research in wetlands and coastal ecology from Massachusetts to the Chesapeake Bay. As a student research assistant at The Ecosystems Center, I investigated sedimentation and vegetation patterns in the Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts. I have also worked in wetlands in western Massachusetts and Cape Cod.
Other Research Interests
I am interested in science communication and journalism, including how scientists and scientific issues are portrayed by the media. As a freelance science and environmental writer, I hope to make science more accessible to the public, and improve understanding of the science behind environmental issues.
Click here for a list of articles, essays, and other published work.
As part of future research, I would like to look at the vulnerability of water resources in the coastal zone, including the effects of decreased freshwater inputs to bays and estuaries, the potential for sea level rise and salt water intrusion into coastal water supplies, and effects of population and development pressures on coastal water supplies.