Drought, lower water levels put strain on eastern Iowa kayak rental

Six out of the past eight months have seen below-normal rainfall.
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 10:48 PM CDT
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CENTRAL CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - On summer weekends, Jeff Avis runs an inner tube and kayak rental service in a couple of different spots in eastern Iowa. However, for business to flow his way, water needs to flow, as well.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says drought conditions are worsening in the state, with six out of the past eight months seeing below-normal rainfall. Lower rainfall means lower water levels in rivers and streams.

“I don’t think it matters whether you’re on the Wapsi, the Maquoketa, or the Cedar. They’re all in bad shape,” said Avis. “We haven’t had no water. We have no rain.”

“Business is about 20% down from last year,” he added.

Not only are fewer people making their way to the water, but, when they do, they’re doing more damage to the equipment, popping tubes and scraping kayaks.

“It comes to the point now that the damage is so severe on the equipment that I almost just want to ‘no’ to people, but that affects my pocketbook,” he said.

Avis estimates the water levels have translated to a financial loss of $4,000-5,000.

Over at Sand Lake at Terry Trueblood Park in Iowa City, the company that runs equipment rentals there didn’t even have a season this year because the water was so low.

“From a business standpoint, it didn’t make a lot of sense where it wasn’t going to be very enjoyable for a lot of people,” Brian Mildenstein, owner of Fin and Feather.

According to the National Drought Monitor, right now almost all of Iowa is experiencing drought or abnormally dry conditions. A DNR expert said anytime an area gets behind on rainfall, it gets that much harder to catch back up.

“I tell people, it’s like you have a checking account. And every month you overspend just a little bit. At the end of eight months, you’re going to have overspent a lot. And you’re going to be thinking about, ‘How am I going to dig myself out of this mess I’m in?’” said Tim Hall, Hydrology Resources Coordinator for the DNR.

He added the longer drought conditions drag on, the more impact you see, and we’ve seen these conditions for a while.

“We are now in the 165th straight week of having D1 somewhere in the state of Iowa. That is the longest stretch of drought conditions since the Drought Monitor was started in the year 2000,” Hall added.

Despite the stats and the cumulative effect of drought, Avis is hoping for relief in the future.

“I just hope next year it ain’t a repeat,” Avis said.