The waiting game is on.
The amount of snow and spring rain Clarke County may get in the coming months could have a significant impact on the drinking-water levels for Osceola Water Department at West Lake.
"Right now, we are OK, but depending on the winter and spring, that could change," said Osceola Water Superintendent Brandon Patterson during a Nov. 14 interview. "This is something we are monitoring very close."
The water level checked Nov. 13 showed it was 47 inches below the spillway. Water levels are checked approximately once a week.
A previous check showed the current lake level was at 44 inches below the spillway. The situation is not improving.
The drought that affected Iowa and the Midwest this summer was a major factor in the low levels at West Lake.
"With the hot weather, the evaporation has been hard, too," Patterson said. "I mean, we hit the highest pumpage levels this summer that we ever had with usage."
He added, there was extremely hot weather throughout a long period of time, and that was a factor, too.
When Patterson was asked how much rainfall is needed to get things back to normal, he replied that it will take a significant rain event of five to six inches.
Any snow melt that may happen will only serve to maintain the current situation and keep things from getting worse. If there is a lack of snow melt, there will not be much runoff into the lake.
Any precipitation the city is currently getting is not factoring into the drinking-water levels.
"Everything that's coming is rain right now, and it's just soaking in the ground," Patterson said. "So, it's not runoff."
The water department serves the city of Osceola, as well as Southern Iowa Rural Water Association. SIRWA is the distribution for the county.
With a potentially dry winter in the forecast, what are the chances for mandatory water restrictions?
In a water-conservation ordinance for the city of Osceola, there are different categories for what to do when the water supply has been seriously depleted.
The first category is called a water watch with voluntary conservation measures. This goes into effect when water levels are 6 feet below the normal pool elevation of 1072 MSL (mean sea level.)
The next stage is a water warning with restrictions on the usage of water. This goes into effect at 8 feet below the normal pool elevation.
Penalties may be issued for not complying with the restrictions.
Currently, Osceola is almost halfway to the water level for imposed restrictions.
After the water warning, comes the water-emergency stage with more water restrictions. A water emergency goes into effect at 10 feet below normal pool elevation.
If conditions don't improve in the water-emergency stage, a water crisis may be declared. This is when water levels are 12 feet below normal pool elevation.
If a water emergency or water crisis ever occurs, the water-distribution superintendent is authorized, after giving notice and opportunity for hearing before the water board, to reduce the flow of water to any customer determined to be using water in any manner not in accordance with the city's ordinance.
While the situation at West Lake isn't an emergency, yet, what can people do?
There are precautions Patterson recommends for the city to conserve water, and he said citizens should be aware how to implement conservation methods now.
People can monitor their water bill for unusually high use — the bill is a tool that can help discover leaks — fix leaky faucets or toilets. People should run a clothes washer or dishwasher only when they are full.
Other precautions include using a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks, and consider ways to shorten showers by a couple of minutes. Turn off the water while brushing teeth or shaving.
It is important to report any broken water pipes. If people notice water running along the street or in the grass, call the water department to check it out. The sooner leaks or main breaks are reported, the sooner they can be fixed.
If it's after hours, call the Clarke County Sheriff's Office, and they will call water-department officials.
Still to come
Patterson said he isn't too worried about the situation at West Lake, yet, but it is something that needs to be monitored.
"I think right now, it's something we need to watch," he said. "Obviously, if it continues it's going to be a concern, but I think we're doing what we need to right now, just trying to keep people informed."