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TMCNet:  Iowa cities anxious about water supply, but Cedar Valley secure

[January 25, 2013]

Iowa cities anxious about water supply, but Cedar Valley secure

Jan 26, 2013 (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- WATERLOO, Iowa -- Cedar Rapids officials are considering water conservation measures in the face of persistent drought.

The city's 49 wells can supply an estimated 50 million gallons a day. Unfortunately, the Cedar Rapids Water Division pumped more than that on 23 days in July. The city plans public meetings Tuesday and Feb. 7 to discuss the situation.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported this week that every corner of Iowa remains in some level of abnormal dryness, a situation that began more than a year ago.

Most of Black Hawk County is experiencing severe drought, according to the report. The state's entire eastern third, including Linn County, is in at least moderate drought.

Even so, Waterloo and Cedar Falls have a more secure water supply than their neighbors to the south, according to Dennis Clark, general manager of Waterloo Water Works.

"Cedar Rapids uses shallow wells close to the river -- alluvial wells -- that are basically pulling river water into those wells," he said. "They then go through quite a treatment process." Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Waverly, on the other hand, went deep, tapping into the Devonian Cedar Valley Limestone aquifer. The underground reserve is capable of releasing up to 4,000 gallons of water per minute.

Waterloo has 14 wells, and the water table is regularly monitored.

"Our records go back about 30 years, our good records, and they've remained very constant through all that time, even through drought," Clark said.

"We are closely monitoring that just so something doesn't creep up on us," he added.

Cedar Rapids will use the terms drought watch, alert, warning and emergency. Officials will issue mandatory restrictions when water demand reaches 75 percent of well capacity and will declare an emergency if demand reaches 85 percent.

Des Moines depends on a water system similar to the one supplying Cedar Rapids. Consequently, officials there and in some other communities, particularly in western Iowa, are also talking about reducing demand.

"A lot of drinking water agencies are developing conservation plans because of the stress they've seen on their water systems," Clark said. "We haven't seen that stress yet, but if we see that, we will try to act accordingly." The Hydrology Working Group, formed in partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is also tracking groundwater levels, surface water and stream flow. Chuck Gipp, director of the DNR, provided lawmakers with an update Wednesday, suggesting water usage may indeed be curtailed in coming months.

Gipp's goal, he said, was not to scare anyone.

"But we want to caution people that we are still in the middle of a drought, and we have stream segments way below normal flow," he said.

There is no "river" in the Skunk River at Ames, Gipp said, and no water spills over the weir at Milford Creek, the outflow from the Iowa Great Lakes in northwest Iowa.

According to Gipp, out-of-state consumers would lose their water first if mandatory restrictions are necessary.

"Then it's lesser priority things like crops and then organic crops and then its livestock and, obviously, the last entity to get cut off is people," he added.

Clark is banking on the Devonian Cedar Valley Limestone aquifer to provide enough water. All-time high demand in Waterloo was about 28 millions gallons per day, but the city set that mark in the late 1970s. Usage today peaks between 20 to 22 million gallons.

"I don't know where the limits are, but it appears to be quite a bit above where we are now," Clark said.

"There are definitely some places in Iowa that are nervous for next year, but Waterloo and Cedar Falls seem to be in a good position right now," he added.

James Lynch contributed to this story.

___ (c)2013 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) Visit Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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