Water watch

The city of Sheldon declared a water watch last Thursday, which is a voluntary ordinance that asks residents to try and conserve water. The city issued the water watch due to the drought conditions and record water usage.

SHELDON—The city of Sheldon is cautiously wading into its water situation for now.

But if the record water usage doesn’t let up coupled with the drought conditions, the city will have to go from a voluntary water watch to a mandatory water warning.

Last Thursday morning, the city issued the voluntary water watch to get the word out that conservation is necessary.

“We just need people to help us out,” said Sheldon public works director Todd Uhl. “We as water providers do not like putting out restrictions. That’s not the fun part of our business. We are trying to plan ahead here. We just need some rain and to conserve water.”

Under the Sheldon city code, a water watch consists of:

  • No watering of lawns, shrubs or gardens between the hours of 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
  • No water should be used to fill private swimming pools, children’s wading pools, reflecting pools or any other outdoor pool or pond.
  • No water should be used to wash streets, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks or building exteriors.
  • No water should be used for nonessential cleaning of commercial and industrial equipment, machinery and interior spaces.
  • Water should be served at restaurants only up the request of the customer.

Uhl doesn’t have a time frame for how long the water watch will last.

“It just depends on rainfall and it depends on how much voluntary conservation actually happens,” Uhl said. “We will monitor it closely. I probably won’t lift the volunteer restrictions until I feel we are out of the woods. I don’t want to enact a watch and then remove it a couple of days later and then put one on again. We will look for long-term results before we lift it.”

Uhl thought the last time a water watch was issued in Sheldon was during the drought of 2012.

Sheldon isn’t the only city in N’West Iowa to enact a water watch. Orange City issued a water watch on May 31 as did Sioux Center on June 8.

“Usage is up in a lot of places and a lot of communities,” Uhl said.

Last week in Sheldon, temperatures were consistently in the 90s, helping the water usage skyrocket.

Rain has been scarce, too. Sheldon received 0.21 inches of rain on Friday but the forecast originally called for about a half inch of rain. While it rained Monday morning, it was only 0.02 of an inch.

There’s a 30 percent chance of rain Wednesday evening and a 40 percent chance Thursday afternoon and night.

“We need some rain and need usage to drop,” Uhl said.

The day before Sheldon enacted the water watch, there was a record 1.56 million gallons of water used last Wednesday. The previous high was around 1.3 million gallons and for three days in a row last week, Sheldon’s water usage was above that.

The normal daily average water usage is around 900,000 gallons.

Uhl said he could’ve jumped to a mandatory water warning right away but he didn’t want to jump the first step of a water watch.

“To be honest, the system currently meets the criteria to enact a water warning,” Uhl said. “It escalated very quickly. I didn’t want to jump from nothing to a water warning. I wanted to give the community a chance first and hopefully we are able to avoid the water warning.”

A water watch is the first step with a water warning to follow. The third drastic step is a water emergency.

A resolution for the water watch is on the June 16 Sheldon City Council agenda.

Over the weekend after the water watch was issued, the average usage dropped to the 1.1-1.2 million gallon range.

“The drought is really hard on the shallow wells and they are not recharging, they are losing some capacity as they go,” Uhl said. “So it’s a matter of how long can we sustain the usage. The lower the better. It would be nice to get the usage under a million.”

The city wells have been keeping up but the shallow wells are starting to lose capacity because of the drought conditions.

The Lewis & Clark Regional Water System should help Sheldon in this type of situation in the future, but the city won’t be connected to the system for at least two years.

Sheldon will be allocated 1.3 million gallons a day from Lewis & Clark once connected.

“It will greatly reduce what we need out of our wells,” Uhl said.

Rivers and ponds are at very low levels, so the shallow wells are not recharging at a high rate.

So the city has had to turn up the flow rate on the deep wells, according to Sheldon city manager Sam Kooiker.

“If enough people don’t conserve, then we have to go to the water warning. Lawn irrigation becomes a no-no under that,” Uhl said. “People watching what their consumption is will hopefully stop us from having to go there.”