The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

November 3, 2012

Fighting mini-battles with continuing drought

Precipitation not likely in near future, drought not expected to improve over winter

OTTUMWA — Rainfall is up slightly statewide, but parts of southeast Iowa are not so lucky, and meteorologists are saying chances to recover from this year’s drought are running out.

October averaged more than 3.1 inches of rainfall statewide, which is more than one-half inch above normal and the highest total since May, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

bad. Statewide, rainfall is still 8.2 inches below normal, and parts of north-central and southeast Iowa are more than 20 inches below normal.

Jeff Johnson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, said Ottumwans shouldn’t expect any substantial precipitation in the near future.

“There are small chances out there, but nothing that’s going to do anything to mitigate any drought conditions,” Johnson said.

While the most recent report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows slight improvements in the drought in eastern and southeastern Iowa, the improvements are only that — slight.

“You guys are down to a severe drought — I hate to even say this — instead of an extreme drought,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to make that up in the winter because we don’t get rainfall or snowfall enough to make up the deficits. The odds of pulling out of the drought this winter are fairly low.”

Water Works and Hydro General Manager Mike Heffernan said water production hasn’t been affected greatly because Lake Red Rock continues to steadily release 320 cubic feet per second (cfs), “which is more than adequate for us for our water supply.”

“But with that lower outflow, the water is becoming harder so it’s getting harder to treat,” Heffernan said. “We anticipate low flows probably at least until spring. The biggest effect it’s having on us is there’s not enough water coming down the [Des Moines] River to turn the electrical turbines at the hydro electric plant to generate electricity.”

And that electricity contributes to the department’s operating revenue. They planned for $700,000 in electrical sales in this year’s budget, but Heffernan said they’ll likely only hit $450,000.

“What we generate is sold directly to Alliant Energy,” he said.

He also said without the dam, the entire river would look like it does outside Bridge View Center with lower-than-normal river levels and sandbars.

But residents don’t need to worry about their water, he said.

“It still complies with all health guidelines,” he said. “It does create a little bit of trouble for people with dialysis units because of the hardness of the water. They just need to be more diligent in working with their supplier to make sure their machines are working properly.”

As winter approaches, Heffernan said Water Works will deal with its typical frustration in that as water gets colder, it becomes harder to treat.

“But if we don’t get more rain and we have a cold, severe winter, we face the risk of having a lot of water main breaks because of the frost going deep into the ground,” he said.

October is typically a drier month anyway, Johnson said.

“It’s typically a lower precipitation month compared to the warm season with May and June as the wet months,” Johnson said. “It’s typical fall weather. Temperature changes will be relatively cool with occasional chances of rain. But the ‘S word’ will come soon enough.”

Of course, Johnson is referring to the main ingredient in a winter wonderland: snow.

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