Drought conditions take toll on river and water supply levels

By Mark Bullion

August 21, 2012 Updated Aug 21, 2012 at 7:00 PM CDT

CENTRAL ILLINOIS -- The city of Peoria exists because of the Illinois River.
The city of Bloomington is green because of two huge reservoir lakes.
Many residents forget those facts until a drought causes the water to dry up.

Eleven miles of the Mississippi River near Greenville, Mississippi are shut down due to low water levels. So what does that mean for us here in Central Illinois? You might be surprised.

"Currently, barge traffic is continuing to get through. It's getting all the way down to the Mississippi. The Illinois empties into the Mississippi just above Alton. Fortunately, the problems on the upper Mississippi are above Alton so it's not affecting traffic on the Illinois River," said TransPORT Authority Executive Director Steve Jaeger.

At least not yet. Jaeger said tow boats are taking on less fuel and barges are reducing their load because of the lower river levels.

"It is impacting the revenues realized by the barge lines and the cargo shippers," added Jaeger.

But river levels aren't the only problem in Central Illinois, water supply levels are slightly down in Bloomington. Lake Bloomington and Evergreen Lake are the main sources of water for the city and since the heart of Illinois has been blanketed by drought, it has caused the City to issue a moderate drought status.

"When the combined level between our two reservoirs is down 8 feet below the spillways, you look at Evergreen Lake and Lake Bloomington, when the combined levels are down 8 feet, we're in the moderate drought stage," said Craig Cummings, Bloomington Water Director.

And that means residents are asked to voluntarily reduce water consumption including watering their grass and taking shorter showers. However, if the water levels reach below 10 feet, then mandatory measures will be put into place.

But what's the bottom line through all of this?

"We obviously need more rain," said Jaeger.

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