Cedar Rapids Utility Officials Want Public Comment on Drought Plan

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A continued drought this summer could mean watering restrictions in Cedar Rapids. And utility leaders want the public to react to a newly-created city drought plan.

The city is giving residents a chance to see and comment on a draft plan at two upcoming meetings. The first will take place Tuesday, January 29th and the second on Thursday, February 7th. Both will run from 5:00-6:30 p.m. at the Cedar Rapids Water Department administrative offices at 1111 Shaver Rd. N.E.

Megan Murphy, a spokesperson for city utilities, said the problem most concerning right now is falling groundwater levels at the city's wells. Utility leaders have looked at water demand in the middle of last summer's heat wave. The current ability of the wells to provide raw water to city treatment plants might not keep up.

The water department is actually doing more at the moment than drought planning. Last week, city crews began digging a new channel into the Cedar River off Ellis Road N.W. to divert water to the site of a shallow well. The idea is to recharge that well and increase the amount it can pump to a nearby water treatment plant. The city of Cedar Rapids gets drinking water from shallow wells located near and along the Cedar River.

Murphy said the city is emphasizing its drought planning now because it may prompt changes for residents and the time to start thinking about it is now.

"Now is when people are making landscape decisions — are they going to plant a tree, plant a garden? Hopefully, we can get this information out so they can maybe alter plans maybe they need to plant a drought-tolerant plant," Murphy said.

Murphy said the city can treat 60-million gallons of drinking water per day. The best estimate now is the city wells can only provide 50-million gallons due to the ongoing drought. The drought planning ideas include voluntary calls for water conservation escalating into mandatory cutbacks if the drought conditions worsen.

Murphy said initial restrictions could take the form of odd-even days for watering with residents only able to water lawns and plants every other day. If the drought progresses, the city might consider banning washing cars at homes and could even go to watering restrictions that might call for reducing home watering to one day a week.

Todd Culver, president of Culver's Lawn and Landscaping in Marion, received a copy of the city's proposed drought plan. He said limiting watering to just one day a week could put new sod, trees and other plants in jeopardy. He plans to attend at least one of the informational sessions about drought planning to make his opinions known.

"There is concern we could lose retail sales if you can't water. We're not at that stage yet, but we want to make sure that doesn't happen," he said.

The Cedar Rapids City Council has not adopted the utility drought plan yet. That is expected sometime before spring.
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