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Cedar Rapids to Approve Drought Response Plan; Drought 'Watch' Could Follow

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa City Hall is slated to approve a new drought contingency plan this week in response to the ongoing drought in much of the state of Iowa.

The new drought plan details four stages of action drought watch, drought alert, drought warning and drought emergency as the demand for city water gets closer to the city's capacity to pump, treat or deliver "finished" water to its customers.

Steve Hershner, the city's interim utilities director, on Monday said the city won't immediately enter into a first-stage drought watch once council approves the drought plan because such an official declaration will require a subsequent council vote.

However, Hershner said the city currently is "right on the border" in which he would recommend that a drought watch be declared in the city.

To date in 2013, the city has had three-tenths of one inch more rain than average, but the city still if far from making up for 2012, when the city received 10 inches of precipitation less than average.

The city has a system of 49 shallow wells along the Cedar River above downtown, which have the capacity to pump 90 million gallons of water a day in normal times. Currently, the city estimates that the wells can pump only about 55 million gallons because of the low level of the river and lack of moisture in the substrata next to the river where the wells are located, Hershner said.

Four of the 49 wells are more-productive collector wells, and the city is building a fifth collector well slated to go online this summer.

During last summer's peak demand for water, the city's wells pumped more than 50 million gallons of water a day on 23 days between June 18 and Aug. 3 with a city record of 53.688 million gallons on July 25. The city's two water treatment plans can treat together about 60 million gallons of water a day.

The city system delivered last summer, but Hershner has noted that the system did so because nothing in the system broke.

In the city's new drought contingency plan, a drought alert begins when customer water demand reaches 65 percent of the capacity of the city's wells to produce water. A drought warning is imposed when that figure reaches 75 percent and a drought emergency is declared when the demand reaches 85 percent of the city's well capacity.

Customers will be asked to use less water as the drought stages worsen.

In the first stage, a drought watch, the Water Division won't ask for any voluntary reduction in water use, but the division will inform the public that such a reduction will be sought if conditions worsen.

In a drought alert, the city will ask customers to voluntarily reduce water use. That can include watering lawns between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., washing vehicles less often at home and reducing water use for recreational purposes.

In a drought warning, residents will be told to water lawns only twice a week and to use water in a bucket or a hose with a shut-off nozzle to wash vehicles at home.

In the drought emergency, lawn watering will be limited to one day a week, vehicle washing will be limited to commercial carwashes, and the filling and refilling of swimming pools, wading pools and Jacuzzi-type pools will be prohibited.

In an acute emergency, mandatory rationing may be implemented.

The city's Hershner has said that the flood of 2008 and the drought of 2012 together seem to have some of the "pathways" of the Cedar River, which recharges the city's system of shallow wells alongside the river.

As a result, the city in recent weeks has tried an experiment in which it has cleared a channel through a peninsula in the Cedar River to allow more river water to get to one of its collector wells. The city expects to take a similar action in another spot to get backwater into a well field, Hershner said.

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