March 28, 2013
Terry Kluver, water superintendent for the City of Carroll, holds an 11-foot measuring staff that represents the lowering of the water level in the aquifer that supplies Carroll’s water from one year ago. The drop in the water level can be thought of as nearly the same depth of the deepest part of the pool at the Carroll Aquatic Center.
Carroll, something of an emerald city in Iowa, known for its lush lawns and consistently landscaped homes, may be forced to endure another brown summer based on early local levels in the Dakota Aquifer, the city's source of water.
But this summer is shaping up to be worse as the city may have no other recourse than to impose a mandatory water-use restriction policy, which would be squarely aimed at reducing or cutting off the 600,000 gallons of water a day estimated to go to residential irrigation during the hottest days.
The aquifer stood at 75 feet below surface in January - compared with 64 feet below surface in January 2012. A danger level, when the city's eight wells are in jeopardy of sucking air, is 86 feet below surface. Last July, the level dropped to 84 feet below surface - with a start to the year that is a full 11 feet more favorable than 2013. The most recent reading of the aquifer level: 73 feet 9 inches below surface on Monday.
Bottom line: homeowners beginning landscaping projects should take into account the very real risk of the implementation of a water-conservation measure that forces them to turn off their hoses.
"It's probably a better chance than previously that we could move to that," said City Engineer Randy Krauel.
On Wednesday, Layne Company of Ames, the city's contractor for a wellfield expansion project, continued its testing for more city wells. Two locations appear favorable - one on Third Street, 1/2 mile east of Carroll, and the other on Pleasant Ridge Road, west of U.S. Highway 71 by about 1/2 mile.
The city has $1.5 million budgeted for the addition of wells, but it likely will take a year or more to get them on line, Krauel said.
The aquifer, which runs under the Middle Raccoon River, can best be described as a giant, underground sponge with water flowing from northern areas under Carroll through sandstone rock.
Carroll water system can produce 2.056 million gallons a day. At one point last July, usage hit 2.042 million gallons. The water tower holds 500,000 gallons and an underground reservoir at a high-service pump on Adams Street south of Bluff Street holds 1 million gallons. That gives Carroll a margin of error for a day or two, but not through extended hot weather and upticks in usage, Krauel said.
Which brings the issue back to residential irrigation - until the supply is boosted.
In February of both 2012 and 2013 water usage in Carroll remained consistent at about 1.4 million gallons a day. But in July 2012, the level hit 2 million gallons a day - the vast majority of the increase attributable to people watering their lawns.
The number to watch is 86. When the aquifer level hits 86 feet below surface the city's emergency water policy goes into effect, although city officials would in all likelihood take measures in the low 80s.
The city has a raft of options, both voluntary and involuntary. Since usage levels are associated with lawn watering, that likely is the first place the city would ask people to change routines, or mandate an alternate-day outdoor-watering schedule. In extreme situations the city could ban commercial car washing or take other measures.
The voluntary water-conservation efforts that would benefit the city include: reduction of watering of residential lawns, gardens, plants, trees or shrubs, residential pool filling, residential vehicle washing (this doesn't include patronizing a car-wash business with your car), all inside residential water usage that is not totally necessary, all commercial water use that is not totally necessary, water served at restaurants, washing of streets, parking lots and sidewalks, ornamental fountains, non-essential hydrant flushing, washing the outside of buildings, non-essential construction water usage and non-essential government usage.
Under the emergency water-use policy, City Manager Clausen and Mayor Adam Schweers are empowered to select from a list of restrictions should that become necessary.
The most effective and controversial measure would be imposing and policing a prohibition of residential lawn watering.
City Attorney David Bruner said any violations under a ban likely would be treated as municipal infractions, not simple misdemeanors.
"I think we would probably want to keep it in the civil arena as opposed to even hint of a criminal matter," Bruner said.
The city could hit violators with daily fines of up to $1,000. Magistrate judges have the ultimate say on fines.
Bruner said the city probably would look at warnings first, seeking cooperation from residents.
"From our history I think that's most likely what we would do," Bruner said.
Bruner said the city would lean toward giving residents the benefit of the doubt for any early violations for lawn-watering systems.
"Maybe an older couple doesn't know how to shut if off, do those mechanics," Bruner said. "It may just be a fairly innocent mistake."
The ideal situation, Krauel said, would be for rain to hit locally to reduce usage levels here for a time as rains in South Dakota and Minnesota and northwest Iowa recharge the aquifer. The northern rains can take years to recharge the aquifer as water travels down through the earth.
"Here we are a couple of years into a drought where everybody has been locally drawing down the Dakota sandstone," Krauel said.
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