How Ithacans And The City Can Curb The Water Shortage

Jul 28, 2016

A screenshot of the U.S. Drought Monitor taken on Thursday, July 28th, 2016. The orange color indicates areas of "severe drought."
Credit U.S. Drought Monitor

Much of the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier is facing a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The City of Ithaca is asking residents to limit water use

Scott Gibson, one of Ithaca's environmental engineers, talked with WSKG about the amount of water available and measures the city is taking to curb the impact of the drought. 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On the amount of water in the city's reservoir:

"It's low... What we look for is how much water is cresting the dam, if any...if there isn't, that means we're drawing more than is being replenished.. Right now, there's about a ten foot crest, spill over, along the dam. Earlier in the week, it was completely below the crest and that's when we got really concerned."

On the city's immediate action plan:

"We're lucky to live in an area where there are three water utilities within close proximity to each other. We have the city, we have Cornell University and we have Bolton Point...Bolton Point can produce enough water to feed Cornell University and the City of Ithaca, but they can't do it for a sustained period. They can only do it for a day or two. Then they have to back off production so they can clean their filters. We could fill our water tanks up; we could replenish our local supplies and then, with our conservation measures, tap into those supplies until Bolton Point is ready to produce that amount of water again.

On solutions the city is considering if the drought continues:

"There's other approaches like renting portable water filters that come in on a tractor trailer truck and they could be positioned at [Cayuga Lake] and just tapping into another water source and pushing that into our water distribution system. The problem with that is it's extremely, extremely expensive - we're talking $400,000 or $500,000 a month. You need personnel to run it; you need samples taken; there's water quality measures you need to ensure you're meeting drinking water standards; there's infrastructure that would have to be plumbed in. That is not an option that we really want to pursue, but it is on the table."

On what the community would need to do if the drought persists:

"Right now, the city is in a voluntary water conservation mode. The next step would be to curb large scale users and the last step would be an all out ban on extraneous water use. We certainly don't want to go to that point because that could really hurt our economy, could hurt car washes, restaurants, you name it."

On how close we are to mandatory water bans:

"The dire straights point is roughly a month and sort of the reaction time where we look at extreme measures like a portable filter might be on the order of six weeks. We have time to react, but we need rain. I think they were saying somewhere between six and nine inches of rain and that would put us on even keel for this time of year.