water conservation and Energy & Environment and Water and Utilities and Public Safety

Fire, water worries grow worse amid Indiana drought

July 11, 2012

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is banning lawn watering in the city beginning Friday.

Ballard on Wednesday issued an executive order declaring a water shortage warning with mandatory water-use restrictions in Marion County, where little rain has fallen over the past month. The ban does not apply to the communities of Lawrence and Speedway, which have their own water systems.

Open burning bans are in place in all but a handful of Indiana's 92 counties. In Johnson County south of Indianapolis, the county commissioners have banned smoking during the county fair that starts Saturday and runs through July 21.

Sheriff's Chief Deputy Randy Werden told the Daily Journal that smoking at the fair "could be a dangerous situation" with the dry grass.

A state listing on Wednesday showed Johnson County as the only one with limits on smoking.

The county was among many in the state that banned fireworks around the Fourth of July. Authorities said those bans have largely been followed.

"Use of fireworks is down considerably," Werden said. "They are paying attention."

Meanwhile, water levels continue falling at reservoirs around Indianapolis. The situation has the water company for the city and some of its suburbs considering a ban on watering lawns.

Citizens Water officials estimate that lawn watering accounted for about 40 percent of the utility's total usage when it pumped 231 million gallons in a day before asking customers to conserve water nearly two weeks ago. That dropped to about 200 million gallons over the weekend, the Indianapolis Star reported.

The water level at Morse Reservoir north of Indianapolis is about 4.5 feet below normal and dropping a foot every five days. At that rate, the lake has about 20 days until it hits emergency level.

Citizens Water used 84 million gallons from Morse and 42 million from nearby Geist Reservoir on Tuesday alone to fill its need. The ongoing drought has raised some concerns that the reservoirs might not fill back up by next summer even if normal rainfall returns.

"We've never had a time when the reservoirs haven't recharged," Citizens Water spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple told the Star. "We're not there yet."

The falling water level has stranded many boats around Morse and left some sections of the reservoir dry.

The recent heat wave that saw temperatures topping 100 degrees into last weekend led the lake's water temperature to reach 92 degrees, said Scott Durfey, the manager at Morse Lake Marina.

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