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Ithaca Officials: Conservation necessary as water shortage grows ‘critical’

Throughout the region, drought has challenged residents, farmers, business owners and wildlife as an unusually dry weather pattern has made this summer among the driest on record for a vast majority of the Finger Lakes.

Ithaca is nearing a breaking point, as their water supply is dangerously low – prompting city officials to release a statement on Wednesday, asking residents, business owners, and others in the city to conserve water.

While some beneficial rain was felt earlier this week – it did little to challenge the drought conditions felt throughout the region.

Statement from City of Ithaca:

“The City of Ithaca water supply is critically low due to the severe drought conditions in the Finger Lakes region, and the Tompkins County Health Department issued a Water Conservation Advisory last Thursday. Water has been flowing down Six Mile Creek into the reservoir at a lower rate than water is being drawn into the City’s water treatment system. As a result, the water level in the reservoir has been dropping.

At current water consumption rates, the City could drain the reservoir within the next 30 days if there is not significant rainfall and/or a significant reduction in consumption. Bolton Point is supplying water to both the City of Ithaca and Cornell University water systems, but has reached its filtering capacity and cannot supply additional water at this time.

The City of Ithaca is now asking every resident and business to voluntarily conserve water until normal rainfall patterns resume. At least one other city in New York State calling for voluntary conservation saw reductions up to 50%. The City of Ithaca is hopeful that we can match or exceed that level of reduction, though we will have to impose mandatory restrictions if conditions do not improve quickly.

The City is simultaneously exploring other options and is in discussions with Tompkins County and the other water systems to develop contingency plans.

Here is what everyone can do to conserve water:

  • Do not hose down sidewalks, patios or driveways.
    Stop watering lawns.
  • Use hand watering for valuable plants and vegetable gardens, and water in the morning or evening.
  • If you run your water before using it for cooking, drinking, or showering/bathing, capture the unused water in a bucket and use for watering plants or filling toilet tanks.
  • Do not run washing machines or dishwashers until you have a full load.
  • Take shorter showers: If you normally take a 5 minute shower, take a 4 minute shower for an immediate 20% water reduction. Better yet, take a 3 minute shower for a 40% reduction.
  • Turn off the water in the shower while lathering or shampooing.
  • Install low flow shower heads or other water saving devices.
  • Use bath water to fill your toilet tank.
  • Flush toilets every other time if possible.
  • Do not leave water running while washing dishes, brushing your teeth or shaving.
  • Try to reduce your water usage as much as possible, and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same.

In addition to conserving a critical natural resource, you may also see a savings in your quarterly water and sewer bill.

Here are additional steps that businesses can take:

  • Restaurants should only serve water to patrons who request it and should inform patrons of the need to conserve water.
  • Reduce or stop landscape irrigation.

Here is what the City will be doing:

  • Irrigating the City golf course from water directly from the lake instead of from the public water supply.
  • Irrigating the Commons plantings with water from the lake or water flushed from hydrants that would otherwise have been wasted.
  • Reducing the hours of the splash fountain at Stewart Park.
  • Contacting the highest water users in the City to check for leaks, and determining ways to reduce their water consumption.
  • Monitoring source water levels and reporting daily on water usage and production.

Water Discoloration

The City continues to experience problems with discolored water, which is a direct result of the low flows in Six Mile Creek. Water plant staff are continuing to adjust levels of sodium permanganate and corrosion inhibitor in the water supply to reduce the amount of discoloration. The City has been flushing water from hydrants to clear the discoloration in response to complaints, and will continue to do so as needed. The City also has some hydrants flowing continuously at the ends of the water mains to maintain the required levels of chlorine in the system. This will be reduced or eliminated as soon as possible. In the meantime, we will be exploring ways to capture that water and use it for irrigation or other uses.

Questions can be forwarded to Dan Cogan, Chief of Staff at dcogan@cityofithaca.org.

More Information:

The Cornell University water system, which pulls water from Fall Creek near the Cornell Plantations, is having similar problems. They issued a limited water advisory in early July asking customers to limit water use, but the situation has only gotten more serious for their system in the last three weeks.

Typical flows in Six Mile Creek for this time of year are 14 to 20 cubic feet per second (cfs). However, the flow rate has been far below typical for the past two months, and the flow rate into the reservoir dropped below the critical level of 4 cfs last week, which is the amount that we are withdrawing from the reservoir. The rainfall on Monday temporarily increased the flow above the critical level, but it is expected to again drop below 4 cfs again by the end of this week, which means that the level in the reservoir will again start to drop. The forecast for the next ten days is for less than an inch of rainfall.”

Please check the city’s website at www.cityofithaca.org for daily reports on how usage is matching the flow in Six Mile Creek. Residents can monitor the flow in Six Mile Creek below:

Six Mile Creek Water Flow

READ MORE about Ithaca water shortage from the Ithaca Voice.

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