by Jason Madison
State climatologists predict the current drought could continue through the rest of the year in Iowa. Mahaska County is 8 to 12 inches under the amount of moisture needed for this time of year.
As CRI’s Jason Madison reports, in case the rain doesn’t add up in the next months, officials say some residents should consider cutting back on the amount of water used NOW instead of later.
“If we can compare the starting of last year to the starting of this year, we’re much worse off now than we were then.”, says Bob Wells.
Iowa State University Extension Field Specialist Bob Wells has lived and worked in Oskaloosa for 11 years and say’s the county has seen better days.
” They tend to cycle about every 20 to 25 years and it go into a dry cycle. And we are in that now. The problem is we don’t know how long it’s going to last.”
As of Thursday this week, the U.S. Drought Monitor rates Mahaska County in the Moderate area unlike the northwest portion of the state where conditions range from extreme to exceptional.
“This drought started back in the early fall of 2011 and they are thinking that it will probably stretch out through the fall of 2013.”, says Chad Coon
Coon mentioned residents shouldn’t be up in arms about an extended drought just yet. The city draws it’s water from a aquifer next to the South Skunk River. An aquifer is a body of rock or sediment that stores and transmits large amounts of groundwater. The river helps recharge the underground aquifer even when the river bed appears dry. Every week the water department tests the aquifer’s level.
“We really haven’t seen a noticeable drop as we’ve been running those numbers. Even through the fall when we weren’t getting much rain.”, Coon added.
That’s because Oskaloosa has the advantage of living down stream from larger communities such as Ames and Newton where excess water travels south and recharges our aquifer. Even with those facts calming some nerves Coon says he’s considering a contingency plan.
“We need to be looking into a conservation plan and what we have and what we need to be putting into affect if the time comes that we say we’ve got to cut back on what we are doing.”, Coon says.
Within the city limits consumers can better their odds in case of a drought by investing in low flow fixture and appliances for example say’s Coon. However in rural areas it’s not as easy as that.
“In cities and the big cities they always talk about cutting back watering grass and lawns. We don’t see much of that.”, says Randy Pleima.
Mahaska Rural Water System Manager, Randy Pleima, told CRI the amount of water used increases during the warmer months because of livestock and crops.
“We can’t tell a pig, or animal, or cattle not to drink more water. So we want to be prepared to serve everybody’s need.”, Pleima added.
To combat the high usage the Mahaska Rural Water System has added two additional wells to its current four. Last summer the business was operating on all four of its wells instead of the normal three.
Pleima said, “We took a proactive stance and drilled two more. Started in September they are now just finishing up. I think we can have the go ahead to start using them next week. So that way we can always run four wells and have two at rest. Spread the usage out over a bigger area and if we have trouble with one well we have plenty of back up.”
Both plants are equipped to handle a possible drought, but Wells says it’s important for residents to know how a long drought could affect the local water supply.
“We just need to be aware that we don’t have a abundance of water right now in Iowa. We haven’t gotten into mandatory rationing. It’s just common since for everybody to reduce their consumption if they can.”, says Wells.
For tips on how to start conserving water visit the Mahaska Country Iowa State Extension Office online at extension.iastate.edu/mahaska. Or call 641-373-5841.