SPRINGFIELD – Members of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s Drought Response Task Force met today in Springfield to analyze current conditions and discuss what affect conditions will have on the state’s natural, environmental, and agricultural resources. Preliminary findings show that despite normal to above normal precipitation during the month of March, much of northern and western Illinois remains in a severe drought. The southern and east-central regions of Illinois are not experiencing a drought.
“We can only hope that our farmers are spared another year of severe drought,” said Governor Blagojevich. “While we can’t control the weather, our drought task force continues to meet to keep close watch over weather conditions to make sure we’re doing all we can to prepare for the summer months.”
Statewide, the precipitation in 2006 has been 7.46 inches, which is 28% above normal. Precipitation deficits that began in March 2005 continued through February 2006, especially in Northern Illinois. Statewide precipitation totals during those 12 months is the driest March / February period in the last 75 years statewide, according to the Illinois State Water Survey, a division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich activated the Drought Response Task Force in June 2005 to monitor and respond to issues impacting public safety and the economy as a result of last summer’s near record drought. Representatives from various state agencies, including the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) reported their preliminary findings today.
“The task force is closely monitoring the situation as we head into the planting season. While March has provided us with a good amount of rain, conditions are still at a critical stage,” said Gary Clark, co-chair of the Drought Response Task Force.
Given the current state of depleted subsoil moisture and shallow groundwater in northern and western Illinois, timely and normal to above normal rains will be required for a successful growing season in these regions. Unlike last year, when the effects of drought were offset by an abundance of soil moisture recharged during a wet winter, this year we enter the growing season in a far more vulnerable condition in northern and western portions of the state.
“Illinois farmers in several regions of the state suffered significant crop loss as a result of the 2005 drought,” Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said. “Although we've seen some rain early this year, crop soil is not yet completely recharged as we approach the 2006 planting season. We need a few good soaking rains early this spring to give farmers a head start on a productive year.”
“The ISWS maintains a long-term, statewide shallow observation well network to observe groundwater level response to climatological conditions remote from the influence of pumping wells,” Chief of the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) Derek Winstanley said. “Based on hand-measurements made at the end of February, shallow groundwater levels were below normal by an average of 2.7 feet. Water levels tended to be slightly above average in some wells in southern Illinois, but far below average in western Illinois.”
IEPA is responsible for ensuring the quality of public drinking water supplies. During dry periods, some supplies experience low pressure, which can lead to concerns about the availability of safe drinking water.
“Some public water supplies that rely on surface water remain below normal from last year's drought conditions,” said Roger Selburg, Manager of IEPA's Division of Public Water Supplies. “IEPA will continue to oversee stream and reservoir levels and work with water supply offices in preparing contingency plans for 2006.”
The cumulative impact of months of drought can be seen in the network of rivers and streams in Illinois, with a marked contrast in streamflow conditions between the northwestern and southeastern halves of Illinois. Streamflows throughout Illinois increased temporarily during mid-March, but have declined. For some streams in far southern Illinois, the flows in March 2006 will be in the top 10th percentile on record. While most of the northwestern half of Illinois will have below normal (lowest 30th percentile) total flows for March. Streams in the core area of the drought (Spoon River, Green River, Bureau Creek) are expected to have their 2nd lowest March flows on record.
The ISWS tracks public water supply reservoirs in 35 locations, approximately one third of all reservoirs in Illinois. Of these, 15 reservoirs have records that date back to the 1980 and have a relatively consistent level of water use from which the impacts of different drought periods can be compared. Nine of these 15 reservoirs are now at or near full pool, which is normal for this time of year. Six reservoirs are still below their normal conditions.
The role of IDPH is in making sure private well owners have ample water supply after the beginning of the drought last year and a mild winter.
“The drought which began last year continues to affect regions of Illinois. The Peoria and Rockford regions have seen an increase in the number of irrigation wells built in areas with sandy soils. Well drillers and pump installers in the Rockford area are still lowering pumps and replacing wells due to the lowering of water tables. In Whiteside County, there have been a number of shallow driven wells replaced, even into December and January,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “Although the recent rainfall and snow melt may have started some reversal of the trend, the department will continue to monitor the situation so that we can best address the needs of the communities.”
The activation of the Governor’s 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. Members of the task force include experts from the Illinois State Water Survey, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Commerce Commission, and the U.S. Geological Society.
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.
The next meeting of the Illinois Drought Response Task Force is scheduled for May 24.