COLUMBIA – As water started to dribble rather than stream from the faucets and hoses at his house in Cole County, Dan Bernskoetter realized about three weeks ago that the well was running dry.
"It got to the point where we hardly had any water," Bernskoetter said.
Because of the drought, homeowners all over the state have had to cut back on their water use, cutting showers short and letting houseplants get dry.
So far, the drought has not had a major impact on Boone County wells.
"We have seen a drop in water levels and pumping levels," said Bob Leonard, general manager of the Consolidated Water District I of Boone County. "However, it has not been significant up to this point."
In other parts of the state — including Cole County — the water table has lowered due to the drought, Leonard said.
Bernskoetter had to make adjustments, such as conserving drinking water and pumping from his private lake instead of his well to water his garden. His main worry, though, was the potential risk of a fire.
"I was concerned that if there was a fire I wouldn't have enough water to hold it off before the fire department came," Bernskoetter said.
The shortage is keeping some well-diggers busy.
Boesson Underground, a well-drilling service in Osage County, has been digging deeper wells for those homeowners in particular whose wells are 30 to 35 years old. Some of these wells also weren't deep enough to start with and are only now having problems due to the drought. Others are in areas where more wells have been drilled in the subsequent years, forcing the older wells to share the same limited water supply, said Kenny Boesson, owner of the well-drilling service.
Business at Flynn Drilling Company in Troy has picked up as homeowners have called to have their pumps lowered, wells deepened or to have entirely new wells drilled as their old well has dried up.
"The drought is not only affecting your farmers who are landowners, but also your everyday person who lives in the rural community," said Danny Flynn, owner and president of the company.
Before a domestic well runs totally dry, the water may come out milky, which indicates that there is air in the water. Or it will cut off after being on for a very brief time.
The cost for deepening a domestic well, drilling a new well or lowering the well's pump can be high. Depending on how deep the well is and its location, Flynn estimates that deepening a well can cost up to $5,000. The cost of drilling a new domestic well is around $10,000 to $12,000. To lower the pump 100 feet or so is around $750 to $800.
In the past month, Columbia's water levels below ground have dropped about 30 feet due to the drought, according to data provided by the Department of Natural Resources. Columbia gets its water from the Missouri River bottoms.
The MU campus gets its water from its own five wells on campus.The average water levels of the campus wells have decreased 5 percent in the last month, MU Campus Facilities communication manager Karlan Seville said.
The city and campus water supplies are interconnected, and when water levels get especially low, valves can be opened so the city and campus can supplement each other's water supplies. However, there have been no breaks or shortages in either system that have required this so far.
But the drop in water levels in Columbia may potentially cause long-term difficulties for wells in the county, Leonard said.
The groundwater wells pump from is stored in an aquifer, an underground reservoir. It takes many years for rain water to accumulate in the aquifer, so its limited supply of water does not get replenished by precipitation that falls today. The amount of water going into the aquifer must be equal to the amount being taken out so that it does not run out of water. So while there's no shortage today, there could be in the future.
"Water is not an endless supply," Leonard said.