The continued drought conditions have forced many cities to start putting restrictions on water use. In the north-west Iowa, city officials in Le Mars instituted a water conservation program. Le Mars City Administrator, Scott Langel, says the city has been using five million gallons of water on a daily basis, which is close to the capacity level for the treatment plant.
“When we hit the five-million mark, we always get a little ansy that we’re bucking right up against design capacity of the (water) treatment plant,” Langel says. Langel says the city is asking its 9,800 residents to follow an odd and even day watering program. He also suggests residents to do their watering during the evening hours.
The odd-even watering is mandatory, and they request “voluntary compliance” for other watering. “Which is to water real late in the nighttime prior to dawn. If you do that, that’s the most cost effective and the most functional way to do outside watering, especially on lawns and gardens and such,” Langle says.
He says failure to comply with the mandatory odd-even restriction could result in fines and penalties starting at $100 and going up to $500. The nearby town of Remsen has also instituted the odd-even watering system.
It’s not just the small towns that are impacted. The state’s largest water supplier, the Des Moines Water Works, has been issuing peak alerts to its customers in Des Moines and surrounding cities. Works director, Randy Beavers, says the dry conditions are unlike any other year he can remember in his three decades with the department.
“In a way we’re headed to uncharted waters,” Beavers says. The Des Moines Water Works relies on two nearby rivers for its supply. Beavers says if the river levels continue to go down they’ll have to rely on a never-before used reservoir north of the city called Saylorville Lake.
But now signs line that reservoir warning of an unsafe algae bloom, and if the department has to tap that resource, it will complicate the treatment process. “Once it’s treated it’ll be perfectly safe, it could end up causing us to feed a little more chlorine and folks might notice a chlorine taste, more of a chlorine taste than what they do currently,” according to Beavers.
There are signs that many in central Iowa have already voluntarily cut back on water as you see lawn after lawn of brown driving down residential streets. Roger Huggins owns a mowing that cuts the grass in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale and says at this point they’re just mowing dust and weeds.
“This week we’re only doing half of Urbandale… what we normally do,” Huggins says. Nearby, the lawn and landscape company Perficut employs around 150 people in the summer. Production Manager Doug Fulton has seen people cut back on lawn watering.
“We run an irrigation division too and you would think it would be thriving right now. But you even get to a point where people just give up, after they see thousand-dollar water bills and their grass is still stressed,” he explains.
Information from the Des Moines Water Works showed customers did drop usage when its first peak alert was issue on July 5th. Water usage went to 80-million-gallons-a-day. But water usage jumped back up to 87 and 88-million gallons Monday and Tuesday.
The record for water usage at the facility is 92-million gallons-a-day, which was set in June of 2006.
Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars contributed to this story.