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Water levels still dangerously low

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WORTHINGTON — A few days of cold weather and spotty rain wasn’t enough to recharge the Lake Bella wellfield.

That, coupled with a prolonged drought, has left the water levels the lowest they have been since 2000 at this time of year.

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“Really, I’m not going to complain about anything,” said Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain. “But the fact of the matter is all around us they’ve been getting decent showers out of this system. All we’re getting is drizzled on. There was a couple of times over those few days when it acted like it was really going to rain, and you could actually hear it hitting the window for 30 or 40 seconds, (and) then it quit again.”

Despite the promise of April showers finally gracing the Worthington area, less than one inch of precipitation fell during the last week.

“We got .91 inches of precipitation,” Hain said. “What could have been accomplished in a 25-minute thunderstorm with sunshine on the front end and sunshine on the back end, took five or six days.”

“It’s better than nothing, but I don’t anticipate any miraculous recovery,” Hain said.

In total, 1.96 inches of precipitation fell in April. The average is a little more than 3 inches.

“If this is all it did, we’d never get there,” Hain said. “We need some soakers. If we could get intermittent serious showers and maintain the cloud cover and sprinkling, that’s going to help. I don’t want to look any gift horse in the mouth, but this isn’t significant.”

Because of the lack of precipitation during the normal recharge time for the wells, the water situation in Worthington continues to worsen.

“We are currently 11 feet, 9 inches below our 16-year average,” Hain said. “We are still in the red zone, still maintaining the foot (or foot and 1 inch) in the red zone. We are 4 feet, 7 inches lower than what we were a year ago. We are the lowest we have been since 2000 (at this time of year).”

Hain uses a graph with green, yellow and red zones to illustrate his point. The green is the 16-year average, the yellow is between that line and 70 percent of the average. The red zone is anything below, and the water levels continue to be below the 70 percent line.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been here,” Hain said.

There have been some increases in the levels, but not enough to keep up with where it should be.

“The biggest increase we’ve had in a week was the 8-inch increase we had two weeks ago,” Hain said. “Where we had historically seen increases of 12, 14 or 16 inches week after week after week, we’re not seeing it. Unfortunately, we’re not getting any rain either.”

The well reading last Friday had the level in Well 26 up six inches.

Hain said the most popular question he receives is how much rain is needed to get back to normal.

“I have no idea,” he said. “How dry is the subsoil, how much is that going to soak up, how long is that going to take before that starts infiltrating through and recharging the aquifers? Two weeks ago was an eight-inch gain in Well 26. At least now we’re starting to see on that graph where this time of the year we see that steep curve. At least now it’s turning up and you can see it. Even with that 8-inch gain, we lost a little bit of ground.”

Locally, there is a ban on non-essential watering, meaning water can’t be used to water plants or wash vehicles.

“It’s great that people were going out and buying rain barrels and putting the things up and capturing the little bit of moisture that we got and utilizing that,” Hain said. “They were carrying their dehumidifier buckets up the steps and watering their flowers with them. I’ve said repeatedly, it’s great that people are developing those habits, and I hope they continue to do that regardless of what the well situation is. Quite honestly, we don’t need to sell people water to water their flowers or water their lawns.”

Historically, Hain said, Worthington residents have done a good job of conserving water.

“In 2013, our average residential — that’s taking all the residential sales and dividing it by the number of residential connections — our average is 5,576 gallons per month,” Hain said.

By taking the total number of gallons of water sales and dividing by the population, Hain said the average customer is using 52 gallons of water per day.

“Generally, on the EPA website, they said the average residential water consumption is 100 gallons per person per day,” he said. “Depending on if you have four people in the household, you’re probably not going to use the 400 gallons because there are some economies that are split. If you are preparing a meal for one person as opposed to four people, you’re not going to use four times the amount of water.”

While things look bad, Hain is hopeful this will pass.

“I hope things get better before they get worse, but we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again,” he said. “It’s just awareness of this stuff. Do what you can to conserve water.”

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.

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