Iowa’s drought nears worst in 9 years

By: - October 21, 2022 4:20 pm

Low flows of the North Raccoon River in Carroll County have exposed substantial amounts of river bed. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The state’s drought continues to worsen amid dismal rainfall and is now the worst it’s been in more than two years, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

If deteriorating conditions continue at the recent pace, by next week the drought will be its worst since 2013.

About 84% of the state is experiencing some measure of drought, the Drought Monitor reported Thursday. That’s an increase from 57% the week prior, when all of the state was rated abnormally dry or worse for the first time since 2013.

The Drought Monitor uses four classifications of drought — moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional — and the areas of Iowa with moderate and severe drought expanded considerably in the past week.

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That expansion was most notable in northeast Iowa, which until recent weeks was flush with rainfall this year. The lack of rainfall in other parts of the state has led to lower water flows in rivers.

“The Raccoon basin is running much below normal for this time of year,” said Jeff Zogg, a senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service.

Flows in the Raccoon River Basin in west-central Iowa are less than they have been in at least 90% of all years on record, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Raccoon River terminates at the Des Moines River and is a major source of drinking water for the Des Moines metro area.

“We continue to monitor the drought in Iowa closely, but we do not anticipate any issues meeting customer demand until possibly next summer when customer demand increases,” said Kyle Danley, chief operating officer of Des Moines Water Works.

DMWW has raised temporary barriers in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers this year to artificially increase their depths to ensure an adequate water supply for the metro, he said. It also has two reservoirs from which to draw water in emergencies.

Downstream in Ottumwa, the Des Moines River has been averaging a depth of about 1 foot at a Geological Survey monitoring gauge. A hydroelectric plant in that city has been idled because of the low flow, according to WHO-TV.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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