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Lower Midwest drought worsens

July 28, 2012
By DAVID MERCER - AP Staff Writer , Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Lake Springfield is 2 feet below full right now, something that happens every year - but not usually until late fall.

The drought and heat withering crops and drying up waterways across more than half of the country has lowered the level of the lake Illinois' capital uses for water enough that the city is considering water restrictions for the first time since 1988.

A dozen or more other Illinois cities, from Decatur to Rockford, have either enacted restrictions or asked water users to voluntarily cut back before they face limits.

None of the cities are raising serious alarms yet. The restrictions Springfield Mayor Mike Houston is drafting for the City Council to consider early next month wouldn't, for instance, limit watering on local golf courses.

But a summer that's shaping up to be one of the hottest and driest in state history - and the fact that it will take more than a good rain or two to get conditions back to normal - has them taking steps they hope will avoid serious trouble in the months ahead.

"It's not just the drought, it's the heat," said Amber Sabin, a spokeswoman for City Water, Light and Power in Springfield, where 50,000 households and several surrounding towns depend on water from the lake.

"We've been averaging a drop of a little over a half inch a day," Sabin said.

In Decatur, where the city imposed restrictions earlier this month, Lake Decatur is down, too, about 2 1/4 feet, city water services manager Randy Miller said.

Local residents are protecting their drinking water by watering only on select days and giving up the automatic glass of water they're used to getting at restaurants. Those who don't follow the restrictions could face fines. The city has asked people to report possible violations to police.

But in Decatur, water restrictions also help protect two big agriculture companies that employ several thousand people between them. Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Tate & Lyle use many millions of gallons of water a day to process corn and soybeans into food and industrial products.



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