By Judy Keen, USA TODAY
CHICAGO - Water worries are springing up across the Midwest amid worsening drought conditions.
Demand is approaching record levels in some areas, forcing voluntary and mandatory usage restrictions as utilities strain to pump enough water while reservoirs and other sources shrink.
Des Moines issued a peak water alert after demand Wednesday reached 90.6 million gallons, nearing the 2006 record of 92 million gallons, says Des Moines Water Works assistant general manager Gary Benjamin.
If the situation gets worse, he says, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could be asked to release water from the Saylorville Lake reservoir. "We're just asking people to use water wisely," he says.
All of Indiana is under a water-shortage warning, and many communities there have implemented mandatory restrictions. A water-shortage watch is in place for more than two dozen Kentucky counties, and Nebraska farmers have been ordered to stop using rivers and streams to irrigate their crops because of dropping water levels.
"You have the worst of all worlds: very little supply and an absolute straining of the system," says Les Lampe, vice president of Black & Veatch, a global engineering and consulting company specializing in infrastructure. It's a reminder, he says, of the need to replace aging and leaking water distribution systems.
Voluntary restrictions are in place in Decatur, Ill., where levels at the primary water source, Lake Decatur, drop by about a half-inch daily, City Manager Ryan McCrady says.
Without significant rainfall soon, he says, "we will be looking at mandatory water conservation measures."
The Sangamon River, which feeds Lake Decatur, had a flow of 3.4 cubic feet per second at a gauge in Monticello, Ill., on Thursday, says Gary Johnson, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist/engineer. The average flow for July 19: 212 cubic feet per second.
Almost two-thirds of the USA is now enduring drought conditions, according the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's outlook for August through October predicts continuing dry conditions in the Midwest. Elsewhere:
•The Morse Reservoir, a major water source for central Indiana, is 6 feet below normal and the Geist Reservoir 2 feet below, says Sarah Holsapple, a spokeswoman for Citizens Water.
After record-breaking demand of 233 million gallons on June 28, she says, water-use restrictions helped bring that number to 153 million gallons a day. "We need 7 or 8 inches of steady rain," she says.
Rick Fox, who oversees Aqua America operations in nine Indiana counties, says voluntary usage limits in the Fort Wayne area lowered demand from 6.1 million gallons on June 28 to 5.5 million gallons over the past 10 days.
•Mike Wahlfield of Wahlfield Drilling in Comstock Park, Mich., is getting calls daily from people whose wells are drying up. This week he extended the depth of one well from 70 feet to 120. "It's hard to live without water," he says.