September 23, 2014

State water situation looks better than last year

Things will look a lot different compared to last year when the state starts its monthly water reports next month. Tim Hall compiles the information for the  Department of Natural Resources. “If you look at the drought monitor, we were in much worse shape going into 2013 than we were going into 2014,” Hall says. “We’ve gotten rid of the extreme and exceptional drought areas and we’re just looking at a portion of the state that’s in severe drought. But it has been shrinking pretty steadily through the fall months.”

You can see the change in several areas. “The stream flows are running right about normal — just a little below normal — for this time of the year, so that’s looking okay.  And we’ve actually made considerable improvement in groundwater conditions around the state. Especially in extreme northwest Iowa where we had a couple of water systems that were in pretty critical shape going into the summer of last year,” Hall says.

The precipitation for 2013 started out about eight inches above normal in the first half of the year, and then was about eight inches below normal in the second half of the year. Hall says that’s not the balance you want to see, but the end result was positive. “The significant rainfall we got in the first half of last year, really, really helped us out,” Hall says.

The extreme cold has led to the frost line going lower this winter. Hall isn’t worried about that being a problem with too much water running off without sinking into the ground. “In the grand scheme of things it’ll be like most late winters, where until the ground thaws out everything the falls on the top –including snow melt — will be mostly run off into the streams,” according to Hall. “So, yeah it will take a little longer for that to happen, but I don’t think it will have a significant impact on groundwater recharge.”

That bodes well for the rest of this year. “I think the overall message is things are a lot better than they were a year ago, and if we have anything approaching a normal rainfall year, we should be mostly if not all the way out of drought conditions sometime in 2014,” Hall says. The drought map shows the extremely dry areas begin in central to west-central Iowa and run south and east. The abnormally dry areas are along the western edge and north-central areas of the state. For more information on the drought situation, go here: www.iowadnr.gov/watersummaryupdate