Drought worries may force water conservation in parts of Iowa

Northwest Iowa counties facing most critical shortages

Parts of Iowa, especially in northwest counties, are facing drought conditions that could force conservation measures if dry weather persists and demand for water exceeds the supply, state experts told lawmakers Thursday.

Tim Hall of the state Department of Natural Resources said statewide precipitation in 2012 lagged by about 9 inches below the average of 30 to 32 inches and rainfall amounts in March, April and May could signal whether some communities will face water challenges going forward.

“I almost think we may get to the point where some water supplies will have to do mandatory conservation measures,” Hall said. “I would say there’s a pretty good chance that in some parts of the state we’re going to see those triggers implemented.”

The state has a priority list for water uses that was adopted in 1985, but Hall noted that the Iowa code provision has never been used. Also, he said there is no “trigger level” for the state due to water shortages because conditions vary so much that conservation or usage restrictions usually are decided locally with science, data and technical assistance from DNR officials.

DNR officials have a Hydrology Working Group monitoring groundwater, surface water and stream flows as drought conditions in Iowa persist in what Hall described as a “slow and insidious” way.

Hall said water tables and moisture levels around Iowa have improved, but “it’s worse than it was a year ago.” He said the worst category of severe drought is a “a very small piece” of northwest Iowa along the Missouri River.

Kristi Cooper of the Iowa State University extension service said many Iowans already are implementing water conservations measures on their own, with bathrooms, kitchens and laundry areas being household places of high water usage.Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said he believes Iowa is in the beginning throes of what could be the worst drought be has experienced in his lifetime and he encouraged Iowans to consider ways to conserve water to avoid “getting to a point where they’re ordered to do it.”