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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

July 20, 2006

Drought issues loom as fall semester nears

by Erin Rosacker

We've been living on the edge for years and didn't even know it. Unfortunately, the future looks a little too bright when what we need is a few rain clouds.

According to a report on the water supply completed by the Ames water and pollution control department in June, the amount of precipitation since the year 2000 has been below normal overall, failing to recharge the aquifer wells that collect groundwater. A five-year span of generally drier weather patterns has been compounded by the recent lack of sufficient rains, creating stress on the water supply as demand increases significantly during these hot summer days.

City stages of conservation

Already, the demands on the water supply have caused levels to drop to what normally is seen following the heavy usage periods in late summer and early fall. The city of Ames has put out a call to residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce water consumption.

If dry weather persists, the Ames city council can enact a series of water-rationing ordinances. "Stage two" is termed minor mandatory conservation, which prohibits washing cars and limits watering to odd/even days in correlation with street address. "Stage three" is called moderate mandatory rationing and allows watering only every fifth day in the morning and evening with a maximum of one inch per day. Outdoor pools and fountains are prohibited and a surcharge of one cent per gallon is added to any amount of water that exceeds 1.5 times the average winter total at that address.

"Stage four," or severe mandatory rationing, does not allow any watering or commercial car washing. Flower and garden watering is allowed once a week, using only a drip or soaker hose method. The surcharge for usage above 1.1 times the average winter use jumps to three cents per gallon.

Ames has implemented water rationing just twice in its history (1977, 1981), but had to pump water from Ada Hayden Lake or Peterson Pit in 1988, 1989 and 2001.

Campus usage

Iowa State is the biggest contract customer for the city, using more than 319 million gallons in the last fiscal year, which works out to about 15 to 18 percent of the city's total water usage. That is just the general campus portion, with other areas -- like Reiman Gardens and athletics -- also purchasing water from the city.

The ISU power plant uses its own well for its water supply, while Veenker Golf Course uses water from that same well, in addition to runoff collection. Well water use can be restricted during drought periods by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which holds the permits for all wells in the state.

To help conserve water, university officials already have shut down irrigation systems around campus, consisting of six areas that include the Knoll and the lawn south of the Campanile. Facilities Planning and Management is working with other areas, such as Recreation Services and the residence department, to identify additional methods of conservation and communicate those to their patrons. Residence, which will be welcoming students back to campus next month, uses nearly one third of ISU's total water volume.

"If you look at the city's plan, the university will be doing exactly what the city is," said David Miller, director of operations for FP&M.

This includes severe measures that could shut down water features and fountains, eliminate equipment and car washing, close showers in recreation areas and turn off some drinking fountains.

"Those discretionary activities associated with recreation would probably be affected as much as anything else," Miller said.

A temporary reprieve

According to Tom Neumann, director of Ames' water and pollution control department, public response to the plea for conservation efforts has been good. So good, in fact, that last week's water usage was the lowest amount recorded over the last couple of months -- despite the influx of Iowa Games participants.

"We think that the last week and all the rains that we received bought us some time before we would need to implement a mandatory set of restrictions," Neumann said.

Don't start taking a long, celebratory shower just yet. Despite the contributions to the aquifer from the last round of precipitation, water levels are still low and the peak period of usage, usually mid-August to mid-September when the students return to campus, still has brows creased in concern.

"This is a good exercise if nothing else," Miller said. "It's going to increase awareness. We've worried a lot about energy, but now we're going to go back in and try to put on a face on the use of water at ISU and where it's used."

What you can do to help conserve water on campus:

  • Report leaks. Just one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons per year.
  • Shut down any non-essential equipment that uses water.
  • Drink bottled water.
  • Fill the sink, don't run water.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Only run dishwashers/clothes washers with a full load.