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As nearly 80% of Wisconsin is experiencing drought, “Exceptional drought” level needed to be added to the monitor

U.S. Drought Monitor

Drought conditions in Wisconsin improved slightly with last week’s rainfall.

But nearly 80% of the state is still experiencing drought conditions.

For the first time since the drought monitor was created in 2000, Wisconsin is experiencing the highest level labeled “Exceptional Drought”.

Year to year, it’s not unusual for parts of the state to experience drought conditions.

But it’s been more than a decade since there’s been a statewide drought like this according to Adam Freihoefer. He’s the Water Use Section Manager at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“We're going week after week with not enough significant events, meaningful rain events. Certain areas are being missed by the storm events. And we dig further into a hole and it takes us more time to get out of it,” he said. “Different parts of the state, even now with more of a statewide drought have more extreme drought than others because those storms just don't track over equally across the state. Since 2012, we have had droughts in certain parts of the state, but it has not been a statewide impact like we're seeing this year.”

Freihoefer says drought conditions can change quickly.

Last week’s rain in southern Wisconsin was enough to bring a large portion out of extreme drought.

Freihoefer says state agencies meet regularly to assess conditions and make sure there’s support for those that need it most.

“Everything from water availability to fire management to resources for agriculture, federal and state. That is happening and that's been happening all summer is evaluating who's being impacted, how they're being impacted, and what we as a state can do to help besides being able to do the one thing that's most needed, which is provide the rain,” Freihoefer said.

There’s now an online webpage to help people struggling with drought to find resources.

You can find drought updates, water availability, and wildfire risk.

There’s also a place to report drought. Freihoefer says that helps them determine the extent of the drought.

“People like the National Weather Service, you know, use that information to help them make the call and where we're seeing the drought and what it's actually meaning. You know, we can't be everywhere with so people are helping us out, kind of validating what their experiences with the drought at that point in time,” he said.

People can find best practices for conserving water.

Friehoefer says there’s an environmental and economic benefit in reducing water use.

“We live in a water-rich state, but we do see these swings from wet to dry, you know, as we've seen in the last decade. And so, thinking about water conservation is always important,” said Freihoefer.

You can view the drought resource page here.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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