While air conditioners hum and lawns brown across Columbia, city utility officials are planning to issue a stringent water-use alert today and have not ruled out asking people to curtail their use of electricity.
The water-use alert, scheduled to be issued this morning, asks customers to water their lawns only every other day, said Connie Kacprowicz, a spokeswoman for Columbia Water and Light. It is the second of four water conservation levels used by the city-owned utility.
“We have contingency plans, but we still need people to conserve,” she said.
The city pumped a record 23.69 million gallons Wednesday. Most of the water came from the utility’s McBaine treatment plant, although 1.21 million gallons were drawn from a backup underground reservoir. That afternoon, the department issued its first water conservation advisory in several years.
Under the new alert, customers with even-numbered addresses are being asked to water their lawns only on even-numbered days, while those in odd-numbered houses can water only on odd-numbered days. Car washing and pool filling are discouraged while the alert is in effect.
If water use reaches a continued daily rate of 23 million gallons, the utility could issue a water-use warning that would prohibit outdoor watering, car washing and pool filling. At 24 million gallons, the city could fine customers for unauthorized water use.
The heat wave is also putting a strain on the city’s electric systems. Daily high temperatures are expected to remain near 100 degrees, with heat indices as high as 115 degrees, through the weekend.
“The longer we go with this heat without any relief, it’s just hard on the system,” said George Hessenbruch, electric distribution coordinator for Water and Light. “It stresses the equipment to the maximum.”
Kacprowicz said the electric system is experiencing “peak usage conditions.” The utility is considering whether to issue a warning that would ask customers to reduce their use of large appliances during the peak hours of noon to 7 p.m., she said.
“We’d like customers to help us out by watching their electric consumption,” she said. “A peak usage day can add millions of dollars to city utility costs.”
The heat is also taking its toll on area farmers. Mid-Missouri is experiencing a moderate drought but lies alongside a band of severe to extreme drought stretching from Michigan to Texas, said Mike Hayes, a climate impacts specialist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.
“What Columbia’s experiencing roughly corresponds to a one-in-five-year event,” he said.
Gov. Matt Blunt on Thursday asked the Missouri Farm Service Agency to assess damage caused by the drought in 106 counties, including Boone and all its surrounding counties. Depending on the outcome, farmers could become eligible for federal financial assistance, according to a news release.
County health officials urge residents, especially the elderly, to use air conditioning during the heat wave. The Columbia/Boone County Health Department’s utility assistance program can help senior citizens, people with disabilities and people with young children pay for utility costs.
“We want folks to know there’s help available with those electric bills,” health department spokesman Steve Hollis said.