On August 24th, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) declared most of the state to be in a Level 3-Critical drought. This drought status, brought on by low precipitation, high temperatures, and increased fire risk, applies to the Connecticut River Valley Region, the Central Region, the Northeast Region, the Southeast Region, and Cape Cod, and imposes stricter water conservation mandates on the impacted areas. Western Massachusetts and the Harbor Islands have also been elevated to a Level 2-Significant Drought status. To learn more about these current drought statuses, to check back on drought updates, or to look up which municipalities fall under a certain drought region, go to the Mass.gov Drought Status webpage.
These environmental conditions mean that communities in the state are experiencing increased water restrictions, which impact living collections such as gardens, arboreta, and landscapes. The extreme heat and increases in temperature mean that there is an increased risk of fire hazards as well. In terms of impacts specific to museum and archival collections, lower humidity levels and high temperatures can damage paper, textiles, and organic objects due to drying (see the National Park Service “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy” document below). Below are a few resources that may be helpful when learning about managing and protecting cultural resources and cultural sites during a drought:
- The Massachusetts Drought Management Plan (2019). This resource does not explicitly mention cultural resources, but it does provide information regarding the roles and responsibilities of state agencies in preparing for and responding to drought. It also provides guidance for communities experiencing drought, including “key actions that can be taken at the local level before a drought (to prepare) and during a drought (to respond), along with resources to implement key actions” (p. 47).
- California Native American Commission report: Protecting California Native American Sites During Drought, Wild Land Fire, and Flood Emergencies (2015). While this resource is specific to the state of California, it does offer guidance on pages 15-22 on “Cultural Resources Management Guidelines and Best Practices” that cover the effects of drought, flood, and fire on Native American cultural sites and ways to coordinate the protection of sites against these risks.
- The National Park Service policy document, “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy” (2016) includes case studies that reference nation-wide historical drought conditions and lists various drought-related impacts to cultural resources (broadly defined as archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, ethnographic resources, museum collections, and buildings and structures). These impacts are excerpted below: