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Cities watching water levels closely

A few dry weeks away from drought contingency plans

Staff writer

Florence and Goessel are already asking residents to conserve water, and Marion and Hillsboro are close to implementing conservation plans.

Marion Reservoir, which is the water source for Hillsboro, Marion, and Peabody, was at 82 percent of conservation pool Tuesday morning. At 80 percent and below, Marion’s drought contingency plan calls for a water watch.

In a water watch, the city urges residents to limit outdoor water use and to make efficient use of indoor water, such as only washing full loads of laundry and taking short showers.

At even lower reservoir levels, the city plan calls for mandatory water use limits. At 67 percent and below, outdoor water use is limited to between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m., lawns can only be watered once every two days, swimming pools can only be refilled once a week after sunset, and water use above winter levels incurs extra fees.

At 33 percent and lower in the reservoir, outdoor water use is banned, in addition to the above measures.

Water demand in the city is about 400,000 gallons per day, which is a little higher than usual for summer, City Administrator Doug Kjellin said.

As news has spread of Florence and Goessel asking residents to conserve water, Hillsboro water treatment plant supervisor Morgan Marler has noticed a slight decline in water use in Hillsboro.

“We’ve noticed responsible usage by our customers,” Marler said Monday.

The reservoir is about 2 feet below full conservation pool, she said.

That is enough that there isn’t an imminent danger of facing water restrictions, but the cities are monitoring the situation, she said. At its most severe, the reservoir was 8 feet below conservation pool for a while in 1993, Marler said.

If dry weather continues for another few weeks, Hillsboro would probably implement the first step of its drought contingency plan, Marler said. The first step includes voluntary conservation measures, in which residents are asked to curtail their water use.

If conditions continue to worsen, the city could then implement mandatory conservation, limiting residents’ water use.

Goessel is asking residents to conserve water not because of too little supply, but too high of demand. For a while, water demand was exceeding the city’s pumping capacity, so the water tower was never totally full, City Clerk Anita Goertzen said.

Coordination with some of the city’s heaviest water users resulted in the water tower filling during the weekend, she said.

Florence declared a water emergency July 19. With the water table low at the springs that provide the city’s water, the city asked residents to conserve water, such as limiting lawn watering.

State takes steps to help drought-stricken areas

Gov. Sam Brownback sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack last week requesting a drought disaster declaration for Marion County, along with Kiowa, McPherson, and Pratt counties.

County Farm Service Agency offices must report at least a 30 percent production loss in a crop countywide for a county to be recommended for a disaster declaration.

A disaster declaration would make farmers and ranchers eligible for emergency loans administered by FSA, as well as any other aid available through the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program in the 2008 farm bill.

Additionally, Brownback signed Executive Order 11-25, which suspends a requirement to receive oversized load, registration, and fuel permits for people hauling hay to livestock in drought-stricken areas.

Participating motor carriers may travel during nighttime hours if the oversized load is marked with clearance lights or escort vehicles are used.

Executive Order 11-25 is in effect until rescinded or until drought emergency and disaster declarations are lifted.

Last modified Aug. 4, 2011

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