Des Moines Water Works CEO Ted Corrigan is closely watching Iowa’s growing drought conditions, concerned about falling water levels in the Raccoon River, the utility’s chief water source.
With hot, dry conditions expected to continue, Corrigan expects the water works, which serves 600,000 customers in central Iowa, will need to erect flashboards across a low-head dam on the river next week to ensure it has an adequate pool of water to draw from.
It would be the third year in a row the utility has had to resort to that measure. Before that, the flashboards were last installed in 2013, near the end of a severe and widespread drought that began in 2011.
The water works isn’t yet calling for its customers to conserve water. Corrigan is only asking that they use water wisely, follow the utility’s suggested irrigation schedule, with people with odd- and even-numbered addresses alternating watering in odd- and even-numbered dates, and ensure that lawn irrigation systems aren’t wasting water.
Corrigan said he saw a sprinkler spraying across two lanes of 50th Street on Friday. Motorists had to use their windshield wipers after they drove through, he said.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Everyone knows we’re in a drought and water demand is high.”
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Drought spreading across metro, state
Most of the Des Moines metro is experiencing either moderate drought or abnormally dry conditions, the US Drought Monitor showed Aug. 4.
Nearly 31% of the state is experiencing moderate to severe drought, the Drought Monitor shows, especially in northern Iowa, where the Raccoon River system has its sources.
On Thursday, demand for water in the Des Moines metro area hit 93.5 million gallons, the second-highest on record, Corrigan said. The record dates from August 2012, when demand reached 96 million gallons during that period’s widespread, persistent drought.
The National Weather Service says the best chance for rain in upcoming days will come late Sunday and early Monday. If the forecast holds true, it will be the first measurable rainfall at Des Moines International Airport since July 23, when 0.02 inches fell, according to weather service records.
As of Saturday, it will have been a month since the last substantial rainfall there: 1.41 inches on July 6.
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During the summer, about half of the water the utility processes goes for outside activities like watering gardens, filling swimming pools and washing cars, Corrigan said. The largest portion is used to irrigate lawns.
Some increase in demand also comes from businesses that use water in systems that cool people and equipment, he said.
Corrigan said he isn’t asking residents or businesses to let their lawns go brown. But he hopes customers will use water wisely.
“Don’t water the driveway. Don’t water during the hottest time of the day. Don’t be wasteful,” he said, “and we can get through this.”
Last year, Des Moines Water Works asked customers to voluntarily cut water use by 25% for about a month.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8457.