CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — State water and climate experts say 2014 is shaping up to be a more moderate year than 2013, when we had extreme downpours followed by a long period of drought in the summer and fall. They’re also working to expand the system they use to keep track of river, stream and groundwater levels.
Mike Gannon with the University of Iowa’s IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering labs said only a few parts of Iowa are in dire need of rain.
“I would say the area that’s most under a severe drought would be northwest Iowa. There’s some watersheds up there; the Rock River, the Floyd River,” said Gannon.
Gannon told us the last three years have been a roller coaster of precipitation conditions. Most recently, a dry stretch starting last year.
“We saw pretty severe droughts going into the fall, we had pretty much normal snowfall here, and then the start of the spring was quite dry.”
Gannon said even though rainfall amounts have been normal in recent weeks, the next few months will be a critical time for farmers and livestock owners.
“That’s when water supplies basically have their peak usage,” Gannon explained. “A lot of rural water utilities in western Iowa see increases with livestock usage.”
State Climatologist Harry Hillaker said lower temperatures have also been keeping groundwater from evaporating too quickly.
“A huge difference is, we’re running about 12 degrees cooler than we were two years ago,” said Hillaker, in a phone interview.
Even so, Gannon said more groundwater measuring stations are needed throughout the state. He said with more real-time data, drought maps will eventually be more accurate.
“We could have that measurement instantaneously, and it would come to us through satellite,” Gannon said.
A proposal to build more stations in Iowa was struck down with a recent string of budget cuts announced by Governor Terry Branstad.
Even if it passed, Hillaker said it would take a while to see a benefit from them.
“Unfortunately, even once we have such a network established, it takes several years of data collected to really see what is typical, what’s not, so you have some sort of historical perspective of what’s going on.”
Gannon said the plan is to resubmit the proposal for more observation wells for next year’s legislative session.