Looks can be deceiving
WORTHINGTON -- Recent rains and the prospect for more showers through the Memorial Day weekend have people wondering locally why the watering ban remains in effect in the city of Worthington.
Those questions can be answered with the latest release of the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday, which showed all of Rock and Pipestone counties still in a severe drought, while a majority of Nobles and Murray counties have retreated to moderate drought status with Cottonwood and Jackson counties.
Despite the gloomy picture, area residents are enjoying an abundance of green grass, flowering trees and blooming spring perennials thanks to occasional showers. The rain, while welcome, hasn't been abundant enough to lift the city's ban on nonessential watering.
Worthington Public Utilities Manager Scott Hain said Thursday the city's well field still hasn't rebounded to the level it was at this time a year ago.
However, the city's Water and Light Commission decided earlier this week that it will lift the ban on nonessential watering when the water level on Well 26 at Lake Bella reaches 90 percent of the 10-year average. The water level hasn't reached that point yet, and Hain doesn't know when it may happen. The 10-year average is a moving target from week to week.
Static water levels are inspected at the city's wells each Friday, and the data collected will be compared with water levels from the 10-year charts for that same week. Beginning Saturday, that data will be published in the Daily Globe, adjacent to the weather information on Page 2, to keep people apprised of the water situation.
"Last week, the static level was 29 feet, 2 inches," Hain said.
"Ninety percent of the 10-year average for that same week is 22 feet, 7 inches, so we're about 6.5 to 7 feet away."
The static level is measured by taking the distance from the top of the casing down to the water level in the well, so the smaller the measurement, the better.
"I want to give folks some indication how far below the 10-year average we are," said Hain of the plans to provide weekly updates on the water levels. "We've had rain ... but it hasn't been a significant amount of precip."
Still, Hain said the static water level at Well 26 has risen by 11 feet, 2 inches from its low point on March 8.
"It's certainly heading in the right direction -- it's just not heading there very quickly," he said, adding that the water level in the well rose 1.4 inches last week, 1.2 inches the week before, and a foot the week before that.
The concern is going into the summer months when, historically, water levels begin to drop off again.
"Typically, we don't get as much recharge as we do in the spring," Hain said.
The city of Worthington continues to rely on connections with Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water (LPRW) to supply enough water to meet daily needs of customers.
In addition, Hain said residential water consumption was down 7.9 percent, commercial was down 10.6 percent and industrial water use was down 12 percent during the first four months of 2013 in comparison to the same time in 2012.
"We have sold about 35.4 million fewer gallons of water than we did last year," he shared, adding that the drop may be a combination of people using less water and a later spring and therefore less early watering. Also, Hain said the city purchased 54.8 million gallons of water from LPRW in the first four months of 2013 -- a water access that wasn't available a year ago.
People are not only practicing water conservation inside their homes and businesses, they are also trying to capture water from recent rains through rain barrels and storage containers.
In his own neighborhood, Hain said he's seen new rain barrels set up and one neighbor even put five-gallon buckets under downspouts to collect rain water.
"I think it's great whether we are in the situation we're in or not -- why not collect the rain water and water your plants and flowers," he said. "We appreciate what folks are doing to conserve. Where there's a will, there's a way.
"We would like nothing better than to get to a point where we can lift the (watering) restriction, but even if we do that ... people should be conscious of conserving that water all the time."
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center released its seasonal drought outlook May 16, showing that all portions of Minnesota, as well as northwest Iowa, impacted by the drought will see conditions improve through the end of August.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.