Decatur Eyes Water Conservation Measures
Decatur officials are closely monitoring water levels in Lake Decatur and may implement voluntarily water conservation next month if weather stays dry.
City Manager Ryan McCrady says there needs to be rain before the start of October, but adds he's "cautiously optimistic'' about the forecast.
The (Decatur) Herald & Review reports the lake's water level was 613.07 feet above sea level Monday morning. Normal summer water levels are between 614 and 614.5 feet. In the winter, the water level hovers between
612 and 613 feet.
City Water Manager Keith Alexander says there’s been a quarter inch of rain since August 1st, meaning Decatur could ask for voluntary conservation without major rainfall in about six weeks from now.
Mandatory measures were enacted the last two summers, including the most extreme ones last year. That ban applied to everything from watering lawns to restaurants only serving water when a patron requested it.
But Alexander said the city should be a better position soon regardless of rainfall. The city is waiting on permits from Illinois’ EPA for two emergency wells, and he says Decatur is also working with Archer Daniels Midland to set two large collector wells.
“All of those different resources that we’re working on – we think that we’ll be up for up for the challenge of the next drought, if and when one occurs," he said.
The city's supplemental water supplies have since been recharged.
"The drought of 2011 and 2012 amplifed our effort," said McCrady. "Even though it began raining quite a bit in the spring in this year, we continue to have those efforts going on. Working with ADM, we could have as much 7-to-9 million gallons of water a day available that we did not have during (those years.")
McCrady said one of ADM's wells will be ready by October, and another in January.
Decatur's city manager says the new restrictions on water use are the most severe officials can find on record.
Among changes taking effect Thursday morning, Ryan McCrady said for the first time, residents won't be allowed to water their lawns or landscaping. People who maintain vegetable gardens must reduce their watering to three days a week, out of buckets that hold five gallons or less.
The drought has dropped the level of Lake Decatur to 611.51 feet, or three feet below normal. That's just above where it was last fall, but McCrady said getting the word out early has meant few residents fail to comply.
"I think our citizens have been aware that this drought, that's been going on since last July, that they were aware these types of restrictions might come back," he said. "And I think that they've prepared themselves for it."
The restrictions also mean that commercial car washes will have to shut down while the restrictions are in effect. Anyone who violates restrictions can face a fine of up to $250 plus court costs.
McCrady said the city monitors the long-term forecasts up to 90 days for not only rainfall, but temperature, as it impacts evaporation from the lake.
Lake Decatur water levels are about a foot below where the city would like them to be for this time of year.
Given the 10-day outlook for precipitation, Water Management Director Keith Alexander says it's more likely Decatur will again seek voluntary conservation measures, like it did late last summer.
The city had to enforce mandatory restrictions on use by October through most of December.
Alexander says there are plenty of things residents can do to cut down on water use.
"Not only does it help us out with conservation measures, but saves them dollars as well," he said. "Less water use means a lower water bill."
On any given day, Alexander says 75-percent of the city's water goes to commercial and industrial customers. Last year, the city asked restaurants to stop serving glasses of water, unless a patron asked for one.
"Reduce or eliminate all your outside landscape watering that you can possibly do," Alexander said. "Another thing to do would be to consider not doing any new landscape plantings this summer because it's going to be tough keeping those plants alive."
State climatologist Jim Angel says Decatur Airport registered .75 inches of rainfall in June, when normal precipitation for the month is 4.50 a half inches.