By Ron Marasco
The lack of rain and snow in the region has dropped Saylorville Lake to its all-time lowest level. Water officials say that's something we should be concerned about.
When not affected by drought conditions, Saylorville Lake normally sits at about 836 feet above sea level. It's now at 832.17 feet. That's a new record low.
"(The) last several months, the flows coming into Saylorville both from Southern Minnesota and down through Northern Iowa have been very, very low, so we've had to maintain our releases higher than what's coming in upstream," said Asst. Operations manager Marvin Morris with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Which means less water flows into the Des Moines River. That's a back-up water source for the city of Des Moines. The Raccoon River, which is also low, is the primary source.
"We should all be concerned," said Des Moines Waterworks General Manager Bill Stowe. "And not simply from a drinking water standpoint, which is certainly our business, but certainly the low water levels and the repeated drought are an indication of how dry our soils are (and) what kind of crop conditions will be out there next year."
Stowe says even if conditions don't change, we still won't see an advisory asking us to conserve for at least a few months. That's because usage during this time of year is already way down.
"Our concern is the longer term," said Stowe. "Seeing a repeat in spring and in summer of 2013 of what we saw in summer of 2012 (are more concerning.)"
Low levels and flows also have other consequences.
"Certainly we'd have some difficulties in the way of both recreation, and the releases downstream," said Morris. (They) could possibly be reduced if we keep going down. That could affect water quality issues, the fish, and that sort of thing."
Morris also warns that the low water level can be dangerous if the lake freezes over. Air pockets can develop, and anyone walking on the ice can easily fall through.