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Dealing with a dry spell

Alex Doty • Jul 12, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Aside from a small shower on July 1, the past several weeks have been pretty dry in Northwest Ottawa County.

According to the National Weather Service, since the start of the month, the area has received only about 0.06 inch of rain. The average rainfall for this time of year is 0.79 inch.

“We could use some water,” said Joe VanderStel, manager of the Northwest Ottawa Water System (NOWS). “It would be nice to get some water to ease the tensions of sprinkling so much.”

With these dry conditions, many have been working overtime to keep their lawns sprinkled and gardens green, and VanderStel says they have taken note of the increased demand at the water treatment plant.

“We’ve been consistently at around 13 million to 13.5 million (gallons per day) for the last week and a half,” he said.

The biggest day for water demand so far this year was July 8, with 14.4 million gallons pumped, VanderStel said.

“We’re getting very close to last year’s maximum day,” he said, referencing the 15.1 million gallons pumped June 12, 2017.

The record for the facility was set July 8, 2012, with 16.6 million gallons pumped that day.

The plant has a capacity of a little more than 23 million gallons per day. According to VanderStel, it’s not uncommon for the plant to pump around 10 million gallons on a summer day with average rainfall.

“Our morning demands have been huge,” he said.

Recently, the plant has been pumping water at a rate of about 21 million gallons per day in the early morning. That’s when many lawn irrigation systems kick on, local manufacturers ramp up operations for the day, and people begin to wake up and get ready for the day.

“Thirty percent of the daily use is happening in the five-hour spread between 3 and 8 a.m.,” VanderStel said.

VanderStel said NOWS operators are at the facility 24 hours a day and are constantly monitoring systems to make sure the water plant is operating without any issues. And even with the increased demand, he noted that all systems have been running smoothly.

And the source of the NOWS water supply — Lake Michigan — is also holding up.

“(It’s) good water, good water quality,” VanderStel said. “It’s crystal clear.”

State warns of increased fire dangers

Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials warn that the dry conditions have sucked most of the moisture from this year’s grass and completely dried last year’s growth, greatly increasing the risk of fire.

“The layer of decomposing leaves and grasses in the ground has dried out,” said Paul Rogers, a DNR fire prevention specialist. “That means fires that do ignite will burn down into the soils layer, making it harder and more time-consuming to put the fire out.”

Residents are asked to take extra precautions to prevent accidentally starting a fire. Precautions include waiting to burn debris and not using all-terrain vehicles, lawn mowers or other outdoor machinery.

In very dry conditions, heat from even a lawn mower or the exhaust pipe of an ATV can ignite dry grass, Rogers said. Things like a trailer chain dragging on pavement can create sparks.

The driest areas in the state currently extend from I-96 north to the Mackinac Bridge in the Lower Peninsula, and from M-35 east to Drummond Island in the Upper Peninsula. The dry area is expected to extend south to the I-94 corridor as the weekend approaches.

Several areas in the eastern U.P. have experienced fires this week, including a 32-acre blaze in the Hessel area that is requiring extended mop-up efforts. There have been several smaller fires across the state.

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