Homeowners in Bartholomew County who are trying to maintain a green lawn can run their sprinklers without guilt.
Water utility officials say they are not sweating the county’s water supply despite the lack of rain, record-breaking temperatures and the weeks-long drought. Private well users also should have plenty of water, a state official said.
An outdoor water ban in Indianapolis, which includes watering lawns, took effect Friday. But don’t expect the same in Columbus, officials said.
The county has plenty of water, they said.
Bartholomew County’s water supply comes from groundwater provided by a deep, abundant aquifer that is less susceptible to dry conditions than rivers and reservoirs.
Water supply: White River and Tributaries Outwash Aquifer subsystem.
What’s an aquifer: An underground layer of permeable rock, sediment or soil that water flows through. The subsystem that Columbus draws from is fed by waters from five counties to the north.
Wells: Columbus City Utilities has 23 wells at two filtration plants. Eight wells are at Water Plant 1 in Lincoln Park. Plant 2, near the fairgrounds, has 15 wells.
Area of service: Columbus City Utilities serves the city of Columbus and sells water to Southwestern Bartholomew Water Corp. to provide its customers. Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp. serves a “horseshoe” around the city, including Elizabethtown and Hartsville and provides water to the Hope Utilities.
City customers: 15,665 accounts broken down into 14,100 residential accounts, 1,208 commercial, 144 institutional (such as schools), 100 industrial, 72 governmental and six special contracts, including other water utility companies.
Average use: The city, including industry, commercial and residential, uses about 6 million gallons per day.
Peak use: During the drought, the use has doubled to nearly 12 million gallons per day, largely due to residents watering their lawns. The peak usage was 16 million gallons on one day.
Record use: 18 million gallons per day during the drought of 1988.
Sources: Columbus City Utilities and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources
“As far as the aquifer goes, (its level) hasn’t even budged,” said Donald Smith Jr., superintendent of Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp., which provides water to areas around Columbus, including Elizabethtown, Hartsville and Hope.
Water utilities are more concerned with being able to distribute water as the demand grows during the dry spell. But utility plants have not reached their limits yet, and officials believe they can keep up.
An aquifer is an underground layer of permeable rock, sediment or soil through which water flows.
Bartholomew County has several aquifer systems, but the water supply comes from the White River and Tributaries Outwash Aquifer subsystem, which runs through the county’s central portion from north to south and is fed by waters from five counties to the north.
The aquifer was formed millions of years ago when receding glaciers carved a deep trough through what is now the center of the county, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
As the glaciers receded, the trough was filled with tons of large gravel and sand. The shape of the aquifer and porous nature of the sand and gravel act as a funnel to provide an abundant water supply, according to the DNR.
Rivers and reservoirs can dry up during a drought because they rely on rainfall to supply the waters. But the water in the aquifer is less reliant on rain and not affected by dry conditions.
“The aquifer system is pretty prolific,” said Mark Basch, head of the water rights and use section of DNR’s water division. “Generally we don’t see huge fluctuation in groundwater levels during a drought.”
Columbus City Utilities has tapped into the aquifer with 23 wells at two filtration plants.
Water Plant 1, which has eight wells, is in Lincoln Park just northwest of Columbus Regional Hospital. Plant 2, which has 15 wells, is just north of Southside Elementary School on Spear Street near the Bartholomew County fairgrounds.
The city utility also provides water to Southwestern Bartholomew Water Utility Corp., which serves customers in the southwestern part of the county.
The city’s customers, including industry, commercial and residential, use an average of 6 million gallons of water per day.
But since the drought, the usage has gone up to about 12 million gallons per day, said Keith Reeves, director of Columbus City Utilities.
He said the peak one-day usage during this summer’s drought was 16 million gallons. Record usage was 18 million gallons during the 1988 drought.
Lawn sprinklers are responsible for most peak water usage in cities, Basch said. Private and agricultural wells also are running “full force” as farmers try to save their crops and rural homeowners adjust to the dry conditions.
Private well owners, also known as domestic well owners, are protected by a water rights statute that ensures they have water and that large users, including agricultural irrigation, industries and cities, do not overdraw, Basch said.
Reeves said the city’s wells are down about 3 feet compared to this time last year, or about the level they usually reach in August. However, he noted that the water level was abnormally high last year.
He said the city is monitoring the water level but has no concerns yet.
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