Soybeans show the effect of the Texas drought near Navasota, TX

The New York State Hazard Mitigation Plan defines drought as, “A shortage of water from lack of rain over an extended period of time.” Doughts can have negative impacts on human, animal and vegetative health.

New York State has been in receipt of ample annual precipitation to recharge its reservoirs, lakes, rivers, and groundwater aquifers. But from 1979-81, particularly the winter and spring of 1981, precipitation levels declined and drought-related impacts and problems started to become evident. Of particular concern were water shortages in the southern part of the state, including the New York City metropolitan area, where nearly two-thirds of the state’s population resides. As a result, the state’s Drought Task Force was formed. The NYS Drought Management Plan identifies drought management regions as established by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).  The New York State Drought Plan was written in 1982 and updated in 1988. Public water supplies are the main focus of the plan, which is primarily based on lessons learned from the 1980–81 and 1984–85 droughts.  The plan is divided into two parts: a state drought preparedness plan focusing on monitoring and evaluating conditions and options to minimize drought impacts, and a drought response plan that defines specific actions to be taken during various stages of drought. This arrangement is unique among state drought plans. The New York State Drought Plan also recommends programs and projects that should be completed to better prepare the state for drought, based on two-time scales: short-term (up to 3 years), and long-term (3–10 years).

Management Practice Tips

Select the titles below to reveal tips for each situation.

Indoor Water Conservation Tips Prior to a Drought

  •  Never pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it. For example, use it to water your indoor plants or
  • Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers. One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year.
  • Check all plumbing for leaks and have any leaks repaired by a plumber.
  • Retrofit all household faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
  • Install an instant hot water heater on your sink.
  • Insulate your water pipes to reduce heat loss and prevent them from breaking.
  • Install a water-softening system only when the minerals in the water would damage your pipes. Turn the softener off while
    on vacation.
  • Choose appliances that are more energy and water-efficient.


  • Consider purchasing a low-volume toilet that uses less than half the water of older models. Note: In many areas, low-volume
    units are required by law.
  • Install a toilet displacement device to cut down on the amount of water needed to flush. Place a one-gallon plastic jug of
    water into the tank to displace toilet flow (do not use a brick, it may dissolve and loose pieces may cause damage to the
    internal parts). Be sure the installation does not interfere with the operating parts.
  • Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low-flow version.


  • Start a compost pile as an alternate method of disposing of food waste or simply dispose of food in the garbage. (Kitchen
    sink disposals require a lot of water to operate properly).

Outdoor Water Conservation Tips Prior to a Drought

  • Check your well pump periodically. If the automatic pump turns on and off while water is not
    being used, you have a leak.
  • Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs, and trees. Once
    established, plants adapted to your local climate do not need water as frequently and usually
    will survive a dry period without watering. Small plants require less water to become
    established. Group plants together based on similar water needs.
  •  Install irrigation devices that are the most water-efficient for each use, such as micro and drip
    irrigation and soaker hoses.
  • Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil. Mulch also helps control weeds that compete with
    landscape plants for water
  •  Avoid purchasing recreational water toys that require a constant stream of water
  •  Avoid installing ornamental water features (such as fountains) unless they use re-circulated
  • Consider rainwater harvesting where practical.
  • Contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and your water provider for
    information and assistance.

Lawn Care

  • Position sprinklers so water lands on the lawn and shrubs and not on paved areas.
  • Repair sprinklers that spray a fine mist. Most misting issues result from a pressure problem,
    properly regulating pressure in an irrigation system will prevent misting.
  • Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly.
  • Raise the lawnmower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut
    encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture.
  • Plant drought-resistant lawn seed. Reduce or eliminate lawn areas that are not used frequently.
  •  Avoid over-fertilizing your lawn. Applying fertilizer increases the need for water. Apply
    fertilizers that contain slow-release, water-insoluble forms of nitrogen.
  • Choose a water-efficient irrigation system such as drip irrigation for your trees, shrubs, and
  • Turn irrigation down in fall and off in winter. Water manually in winter only if needed.
  • Put a layer of mulch around trees and plants to reduce evaporation and keep the soil cool.
    Organic mulch also improves the soil and prevents weeds.
  • Invest in a weather-based irrigation controller—or a smart controller. These devices will
    automatically adjust the watering time and frequency based on soil moisture, rain, wind, and
    evaporation and transpiration rates. Check with your local water agency to see if there is a
    rebate available for the purchase of a smart controller.


  • Install a new water-saving pool filter. A single backflushing with a traditional filter uses 180 to
    250 gallons of water.
  • Cover pools and spas to reduce evaporation of water.

Indoor Water Conservation Tips During a Drought



  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects, and other similar waste in the trash rather than the toilet.
  • Avoid taking baths—take short showers—turn on water only to get wet and lather and then again to rinse off.
  • Avoid letting the water run while brushing your teeth, washing your face or shaving.
  • Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water for watering plants.


  • Operate automatic dishwashers only when they are fully loaded. Use the “light wash” feature, if available, to use less water.
  • Hand wash dishes by filling two containers—one with soapy water and the other with rinse water containing a small amount of chlorine bleach.
  • Clean vegetables in a pan filled with water rather than running water from the tap.
  • Store drinking water in the refrigerator. Do not let the tap run while you are waiting for water to cool.
  • Avoid wasting water waiting for it to get hot. Capture it for other uses such as plant watering or heat it on the stove or in a microwave.
  • Avoid rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher; just remove large particles of food. (Most dishwashers can clean soiled dishes very well, so dishes do not have to be rinsed before washing)
  • Avoid using running water to thaw meat or other frozen foods. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on your microwave oven.


  • Operate automatic clothes washers only when they are fully loaded or set the water level for the size of your load.

Outdoor Water Conservation Tips During a Drought

Car Washing

  • Use a commercial car wash that recycles water.
  • If you wash your own car, use a shut-off nozzle that can be adjusted down to a fine spray on your hose.

Lawn Care

  • Avoid over watering your lawn and water only when needed:
  • A heavy rain eliminates the need for watering for up to two weeks. Most of the year, lawns only need one inch of water per week.
  • Check the soil moisture levels with a soil probe, spade or large screwdriver. You don’t need to water if the soil is still moist. If your grass springs back when you step on it, it doesn’t need water yet.
  • If your lawn does require watering, do so early in the morning or later in the evening, when temperatures are cooler.
  • Check your sprinkler system frequently and adjust sprinklers so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street.
  • Water in several short sessions rather than one long one, in order for your lawn to better absorb moisture and avoid runoff.
  • Use a broom or blower instead of a hose to clean leaves and other debris from your driveway or sidewalk.
  • Avoid leaving sprinklers or hoses unattended. A garden hose can pour out 600 gallons or more in only a few hours.
  • In extreme drought, allow lawns to die in favor of preserving trees and large shrubs.

Always observe state and local restrictions on water use during a drought. If restricted, for example, do not water your lawn, wash your car, or other non-essential uses, to help ensure there is enough water for essential uses. Contact your state or local government for current information and suggestions.

Agriculture Drought Management and Assistance

Protecting Children’s Environmental Health–  resources for protecting children’s health in a variety of settings provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Drought Management Revised -Video from Cornell Small Farms Program and CCE Chenango County that offers strategies for periods with little or no rain when grass and forages are in short supply (2013)

Livestock Drought Concerns (PDF) – Tips from CCE Delaware County and the Watershed Agriculture Program for watering livestock during drought, what to do if the main water source dries up, and other concerns (2012)

USDA Drought Programs and Assistance – United States Department of Agriculture technical and financial resources for coping with the impacts of drought on agricultural lands

Fall Feeding Decision Tools – Tools compiled by the CCE Northwest NY Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops program for making decisions about feeding livestock under drought conditions (2016)

Resources for Forage Management in a Drought Situation (PDF) – agronomic and feeding considerations, safety, and planning tools (2016)

Beef Cattle Management Blog – a blog by Michael J. Baker, PAS, PhD, Beef Cattle Extension Specialist for NYS beef cattle farmers that includes up-to-date information during drought conditions 

Household Water Conservation

20 Ways to Save Water (PDF)  – Ways to conserve water by modifying your everyday living habits (Penn State University, 2008).

Preparing for a Water Emergency (PDF)  A tool for food processors, food manufacturers, and other large-volume water users to be better prepared for water shortage and contamination emergencies (Penn State University, 2011).

Water-Saving Devices for Your Home – Using faucet aerators, low flow showerheads, and toilet dams can reduce your home water use (University of Florida Extension).

Lawn and Garden Drought Maintenance

Rx for Dry Landscapes: Water Trees & Shrubs, Not the Lawn – Watering advice from Cornell Horticulture (2016).

Conserve Water with Xeriscape Landscaping (PDF) – Design considerations, mulches, irrigation systems, and includes a list of drought-tolerant plants for your garden (CCE Nassau County, 2009).

Drought Gardening – Drought-wise garden water tips from the University of Vermont Extension, Department of Plant and Soil Science (2002)

Gardening under Drought Conditions (PDF) – Recycling and conserving water, ways to minimize water evaporation in the garden, and other gardening practices for drought conditions (CCE Dutchess and Rockland Counties, 2004).

Water Wise Gardening (PDF)  – Efficient watering times and methods, choosing drought-tolerant plant varieties, water needs of lawns, trees & shrubs, and other tips (CCE Rockland County, 2009).

Water Wise Lawns (PDF) – Watering for new and established lawns, supplemental irrigation, and other suggested practices (CCE Rockland County, 2009).

Well Water Maintenance

Coping with Drought-Affected Private Water Supply Wells (PDF) (Iowa State University Extension, 2013).

Using Low-Yielding Wells – This page from Penn State University Cooperative Extension discusses well yield, peak demand, how to reduce peak water use, increasing water storage, and pump and well capacity (2015).

State and Regional Guidance

Northeast Regional Climate Center

Drought Facts – NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Water Supply and Conservation – NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Soil & Water Conservation Committee – NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets

National Guidance

Vegetation Response Index – National Drought Mitigation Center

Drought and Wildfire Resources -Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services

United States Geological Survey (USGS) NYS Drought Information – Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services