DNR proposes new restrictions to prevent river from drying up

By: - May 30, 2023 3:11 pm

A section of the Ocheyedan River was dry for months in 2022. (Photo by Ed Jones)

A rural water system in northwest Iowa would be required to idle its wells near the Ocheyedan River when its flow is too low, according to a Department of Natural Resources plan to keep the river from running dry.

The Osceola County Rural Water System had sought the opposite and suggested removing its requirement to photograph the status of the river in low-flow conditions. The utility alleges that its role in the river’s status is relatively inconsequential. But the state seeks to impose more stringent restrictions on the water utility, according to a DNR letter.

A two-mile section of the river ran dry last year near May City, mostly because the county pumped water from a nearby quarry that reduced the water table surrounding it, the DNR said. The utility also has wells in the area that contributed to the problem.

In 2015, when a smaller section of the river was dry, the utility was the primary culprit, the DNR determined. That led to increased monitoring requirements for the utility.

After the river was dry again in September, the DNR asked the utility and the county for proposals to prevent it from happening again. The county said it would limit its dewatering of the quarry to earlier months of the year to reduce the strain on the river. The utility — claiming it was being “bullied” — sought to reduce its monitoring requirements.

That idea was rejected by the DNR in a recent letter that proposes idling the utility’s wells near the river when the Ocheyedan’s surface level drops to certain points. It also seeks to prohibit the county from pumping water from the gravel pit from July to September.

It’s unclear how the water utility will proceed. Doug Westerman, general manager of the Osceola County Rural Water System, did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

The DNR asked the county and water utility to reply to its proposals by June 22.

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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.