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Springfield Mulls Water Restrictions As Drought Drags On

By Chris Bentley in News on Dec 16, 2012 10:30PM

Abnormally low precipitation this year has parched the Mississippi and Missouri River basins, reigniting regional "water wars" where resources are spread thin across irrigation, recreation and navigation. In Springfield, officials are preparing to instate strict water restrictions that would include surcharges for heavy users and ban pond filling at golf courses, if lake levels drop low enough to threaten operations of the plants that supply the capital city with drinking water and electricity.

Lake Springfield was created during the 1930s, when residents dammed Sugar Creek, part of the Mississippi River system, to create a reservoir for the city. So far this year Springfield has received 20 percent less precipitation than its lowest yearly amount for the last 24 years. Springfield already limits water use for landscaping, vehicle washing and other purposes.

The river stage at Chester, Ill. was actually above its flood stage last summer, but dropped 87 percent in November 2011. It stayed stable until this summer, when prolonged drought pushed the river stage down further. Saturday saw the river gauge dip into negative numbers. It is expected to sink further, reaching -2 feet by New Year’s. (That’s possible because the gauge’s reference point is not at the bottom of the river.)

The low water record for this point of the Mississippi is -4.30 feet, set on Jan. 2, 1964. Lake Springfield's lowest-ever level was recorded in 1954, following two years of below-average rainfall. While the seasonal drought outlook projects “some improvement” for the upper Mississippi River basin, the drought is expected to continue through Winter.

Nearly three quarters of Illinois experienced “extreme drought” during this disastrously dry summer, while another 8 percent suffered “exceptional drought,” the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Drought Monitor’s most severe designation. Despite early fall rains, the drought persists — November was a particularly dry month for the state, wrapping up the second warmest January-to-November on record for Illinois.