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Sense of Community: As Springfield Faces Water Shortage, Organizations Respond to the Call for Conservation

Fellows Lake, which is Springfield's main drinking water reservoir, is down 15 feet because of the drought
Fellows Lake
This recent photograph of Fellows Lake, Springfield's primary reservoir for drinking water, shows a "ring" around the lake caused by this year's drought. (Photo courtesy of City Utilities, used with permission)

Reporter Standup:  “Right now, I’m standing at Fellows Lake just on the northeast corner of Springfield.  This is the main reservoir for City Utilities’ drinking water. However, I can look at the lake, and I can see a goldish, orange ring of sand and rock and dirt all the way around the lake. And that’s because the lake is 15 feet lower than it should be because of the drought. And it’s the main reason why City Utilities has asked its customers to step up and conserve water.”

“As a utility, we can store, treat, and deliver it—but we can’t create and manufacture water,” said Roddy Rogers, manager of water treatment supply for CU. He’s responsible for the drinking water system for Springfield.

“It’s a precious resource. It’s a gift. And I think we all have to be good stewards of that gift, especially in times like these when we’re way below normal on rainfall,” he said.

He says he feels it’s part of a person’s civic duty to preserve resources like water, because we’re all in this together.

“Everybody can make a difference. We’ve got 80,000 customers, and if each one could save two gallons a day, that’s a million gallons a week.”

Rogers says water conservation is really more about water efficiency. 

“It’s something we can all do, really with not a lot of effort, just by turning the water off when you brush your teeth or shave, making sure you’re got a full load when you do your laundry. Watering lawns is a big thing. Lawns only need about an inch, inch and a half [of water] a week.   You really don’t need to water every day,” he said.

[Sound:  water gushing into lake]

That’s the sound of water gushing into the lake…because the levels are low, Springfield is having to pump this water from Stockton Lake, 30 miles away—and it’s been doing that since February.  Springfield has pumped nearly 2 and a half billion gallons of water from Stockton this year.

And that, of course costs more—not just for the water, but for the energy it takes to get it here, and the extra treatment it requires.

The normal reservoir level for Fellows and McDaniel Lakes for this time of year is 80 percent of capacity. Right now, we’re in the mid-60s, and that’s with the pumping from Stockton Lake.  Conservation becomes mandatory when that level dips to 60 percent.

This water will travel south, underground through a huge pipe to the treatment plant, where it will be mixed with chlorine and chemicals. It will then go through several layers of filtering before ending up in Springfield’s homes and businesses as drinking water.

Rogers says the response from customers on water conservation has been good—water usage is below average for this time of year, he said.

[Sound:  cars at Mercy Hospital Springfield]

Over at the drop-off circle drive at Mercy Hospital in central Springfield,  the Mercy vehicles are getting a little bit dusty…that’s because Mercy has decided not to wash them as part of cutting back on its water usage.

“Water, for us, is a big deal. That is the one thing that will shut a hospital down of all the utilities," said David Gallhofer, who oversees all of the Mercy facilities from a maintenance and utilities perspective.

“We can back up everything for this hospital with emergency generators and various other pieces of equipment that are portable…water, we can’t,” he said.

That’s why when CU said it has a water shortage, Mercy took it seriously.

“We’ve already got a ‘Green Team,’ and we immediately put those folks to task with ‘What do we do? How do we cut back on water usage? What are our first steps? Where’s the low-hanging fruit?’” he said.

The hospital cut back on irrigation, and changed the timings of when it watered.  And it asked its employees to cut back on using water at home, too.

“We cut back on about 50 percent of our irrigation. [It was] very easy for us to do. Certainly, things were going to die and we knew that.  We know that grass goes dormant, and we could allow the grass to go dormant.  We’ve got a lot of ornamentals and a lot of very expensive plants that we don’t want to lose, so that’s where we concentrated our efforts—on those that are closer to the building, if you will,” he said.

The hospital looked at its pipes and plumbing, and fixed the few leaks it found, Gallhofer said.

“We’re asking our kitchen to find ways in food preparation to cut back on water…and they’re doing a very good job of all of those things,” she said.

Gallhofer says he feels we all have a civic duty to preserve the water we all will need down the road.

“I think all of us take it very seriously. And I would hope that everybody, not only at their homes, but all business, would take it very seriously. It’s a resource that is not renewable. We just have a limited resource here that we’ve got to be very, very careful not to upset the delicate balance of how much water we have.  There are places in the country that are struggling desperately—they’re hauling water to be able to have water.  We certainly don’t want to get to that position,” he said.

Mercy estimates it’s saving between four and five million gallons of water a month.

For KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, I’m Jennifer Davidson.