SPRINGFIELD –As Illinoisans experience one of the driest weather periods since records have been maintained, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich has activated the Drought Response Task Force. Although water supply and agricultural impacts are not acute at this time, a team has been formed to respond, should emergency situations develop.
“Everyone talks about the weather, and while it’s true you can’t do anything about it, you can be prepared for its influence,” said Governor Blagojevich. “In the situation we face, we are being prudent by bringing together our top experts in the state to evaluate needs and formulate smart responses.
The Drought Response Task Force is composed of experts from the Illinois Water Survey, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Water Resource Management, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
“Unlike a disaster such as a tornado, droughts are a subtle emergency,” said Gary Clark, Professional Engineer and director of water resources for IDNR. “The positive side of that is we have time to prepare a response, whether it’s a community with water supply issues, or a farmer in need of water for livestock.”
The Illinois Water Survey reports that during the months of March, April, May, and June, the third lowest amount of rainfall was recorded since 1895, the year to which official weather records date back. Currently, the National Weather Service categorizes most of Illinois in a moderate risk category for drought. Severe drought risk is forecast for the North Central portion of the state, a region framed by the cities of Bloomington, Peoria, Rockford and DeKalb.
“It’s important to realize that we are at a stage of observation and planning, not panic,” said Illinois Department of Natural Resources director Joel Brunsvold.
Those seeking updated information on dry conditions can learn more by visiting the Internet web site http://www.sws.uiuc.edu/hilites/drought/
. The web site includes an overview of weather conditions, soil moisture maps, information about water supply and demand in Illinois, water conservation tips, and a weekly drought update.
“Our forecast statewide is rather bleak,” said Jim Angel, Illinois Water Survey State Climatologist. “It appears we may see scattered rainfall, but we do not anticipate any major rain-making systems moving through Illinois.”
Governor Blagojevich’s Illinois Drought Response Task Force will place special emphasis on monitoring issues impacting public safety and the Illinois economy. That includes agricultural considerations, as well as community water supplies and private wells. Task force members will also be alert to the impact of dry weather on Illinois wildlife and natural areas, and will track the regional implications of the dry conditions.
“We are keeping a close eye on the key Illinois crops of corn and soybeans,” said Chuck Hartke, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “Soybeans have just reached the critical flowering stage, while corn is a few weeks away from pollination. We are looking at some limits on yield potential. We are also scouting for drought-related pests. ”
The Illinois Department of Agriculture is working cooperatively with the USDA Farm Service Agency to monitor the impact of weather conditions on Illinois Crops. Should crop status deteriorate, a federal disaster declaration could be sought to bring financial aid to Illinois farmers.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is actively engaged in the cooperative effort to address drought potential. IDPH monitors and regulates private well water and non-community water supplies. It also plays an active role in educating the public on ways to conserve water.
“By working together, we can address the potential for a drought,” said Dr. Eric Whitaker, state public health director. “The department is actively participating in this task force to ensure water conservation efforts are being implemented to protect our state’s water resources.”
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency suggests state residents make a conscious effort to conserve water while doing everyday tasks. IEPA recommends that everyone should always be mindful of their everyday usage and conserve water to the maximum extent possible.
“This is especially important during a drought,” said Renee Cipriano, director of IEPA. “There are many simple things anyone can do make a difference. First among them, is to simply turn off the tap -- do not let running water go down the drain while you brush your teeth, rinse your dishes, or wash your car.”
The activation of the Drought Response Task Force is based on a protocol set up by the Water Plan Task Force in 1984. It has previously been activated eight times, most recently in the year 2000.
“What we have learned from droughts of the past is not to wait until the situation becomes a crisis,” said William C. Burke, director of IEMA. “We are able to be on top of this from the beginning, and can have plans firmly in place if a bad situation should happen to develop.”
The next meeting of the Illinois Drought Response Task Force is scheduled for July 7th.