Cedar Rapids Seeks Public Comment as It Refines Proposed Drought Response Plan

By Rick Smith, Reporter

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By Ellen Kurt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The city’s Utilities Department is holding the first of two public meetings this evening to inform residents about the city’s proposed drought response program and to take suggestions about it.

Both meetings, tonight’s and one Feb. 7, will be held at the Water Administration Building, 1111 Shaver Rd. NE, from 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.

Steve Hershner, the city’s interim utilities director, on Tuesday said the two public meetings will give city officials a chance to hear new ideas and to clarify parts of the proposed plan that are unclear to the public.

Hershner said he expected to use the input from the two public meetings to finalize the drought policy before he takes it to the City Council’s Infrastructure Committee on Feb. 19 and the full City Council on Feb. 26.

The policy will focus on reducing demand for water in the city should the ongoing drought result either in reduced water production from the city’s shallow well field along the Cedar River or if demand for the water rises more than supply.

Hershner said it was too early to know how current drought conditions may change by spring and summer when demand for city water increases and reaches its annual peak.

"But I want to make sure we have a plan in place whatever circumstances develop this summer," he said.

He noted that the city has four large-production collector wells and about 40 vertical wells and will bring another collector well on line this summer to help with the city’s water production.

As of now, Stage 1 of the city’s proposed drought response plan would ask residents to reduce landscape watering while the city cuts back on non-essential uses of water. At Stage 2, the city would allow landscape watering on one side of the street one day and the other side the next. At Stages 3 and 4, the city might prohibit landscape watering and at-home vehicle washing and further limit the city’s use of water.

In recent days, the city dug a channel through a peninsula in the Cedar River in an experiment to get more river water to one of its collector wells. It may try a similar tactic in the future, Hershner said.

He said the city continues to work to better understand how the river’s flow may have changed because of the flood of 2008 and because of the current drought and how that may be affecting production in the city’s well fields.

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