WORTHINGTON — As southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa look to the skies for much needed rain, the severity of the drought continues to spread.

The U.S. Drought Monitor released its latest map Thursday, showing the six counties of far southwest Minnesota and adjacent counties in northwest Iowa in a moderate to severe drought. The lack of rain has taken its toll on crops and lawns, and has led some communities to issue alerts about water usage. Such was the case on Tuesday, when Rock County Rural Water issued an advisory asking customers to “voluntarily reduce water use in any way possible. Please only water lawns and fill cisterns/tanks during the night.”

In Worthington, where the availability of water has long been a concern, Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain said the city’s access to Missouri River water through the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System has alleviated many of the town’s water worries. Still, he encourages people to conserve water and reminds the public of watering rules that are always in place.

The city never called an end to its odd-even watering restrictions when it gained access to nearly 1 million gallons of water per day from Lewis & Clark. The restriction means that homes with an even-numbered address can water on even-numbered days, and odd-numbered addresses on odd-numbered days. The city also has in place a watering ban between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, regardless of the odd-even watering restriction.

“Our expectation is that people follow that odd-even (restriction) and not run sprinklers in the middle of the day,” Hain said, adding that at this time, the city is not contemplating additional restrictions. “If things don’t turn around, that may change, too.”

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During the last significant drought, from 2014 through the fall of 2015, WPU provided weekly updates in a Well Watch published in The Globe. While the agency continues to compile those weekly reports, Hain said well levels have remained rather consistent.

“We haven’t really seen the jumps and the dips that we had seen,” Hain said. “When we started getting water from Lewis & Clark in May 2019, and started drawing less water from Lake Bella, we didn’t really see a change.”

That remained the case until a month ago when, on June 25, the level of water in Well 26 at Lake Bella dipped below its average by four-tenths of a foot. Last week, the level was nine-tenths of a foot below average. Compared to the same week in 2015, the water level is 10 feet higher.

“We’re still declining a little bit, but typically during this time of year things decline,” Hain shared. “The bottom line is things are definitely dry. We are still purchasing a little less than half of our water from Lewis & Clark, and there’s no reason to be concerned like we would be if (the Lake Bella wellfield) was our sole source.”

Hain said a lot of the Lewis & Clark customers are using more than their reserve capacity, including Rock County.

“Lewis & Clark is asking them to rely more heavily on their local sources,” Hain said. “The real issue is pumping capacity with Lewis & Clark.”

Hain said Worthington residents have developed a conservation culture out of necessity.

“We have Lewis & Clark now and we’re very lucky to have it, but water is a precious resource,” he said. “Hopefully it starts to rain here pretty soon.”

Still searching for more water

While Worthington enjoys the benefits of its membership in the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, it hasn’t stopped WPU from looking for additional water sources. Earlier this spring, a consultant hired by the utility was tasked with working with a well drilling company to drill some exploratory wells. Hain said the search was done on the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area — at Well 26 near 330th Street and Paul Avenue, and along 320th Street, just west of Paul Avenue.

“Of the four holes that were drilled, they found one spot on each of those two sites that showed some promise for future well development,” Hain shared.

The sites wouldn’t necessarily increase well capacity, but rather, create redundancy for existing wells.

“They could be developable, but we don’t have any plans right now to proceed with development,” Hain shared. “It doesn’t matter how many straws you stick in the same glass, there’s only so much water in the glass. That’s the situation at Lake Bella.”