Forget worrying about the drought killing your lawn and start worrying about wildfires.
State officials are raising alarm bells about the seriousness of the state’s bone-dry conditions, likening them to the Dust Bowl years of the early 1930s.
The state’s Department of Homeland Security and Department of Natural Resources have issued a “water shortage warning” across Indiana, triggering a call for voluntary conservation measures that may soon become mandatory.
At a press conference Wednesday, state and federal officials warned of water shortages, wildfires, dried-up wells and reservoirs, and widespread damage to farmlands and forests – all caused by a relentless drought and a continuing demand for water.
“We don’t want to stand here as ‘Chicken Little’ and say ‘the sky is falling,’ ” said Homeland Security director Joe Wainscott. But it may be, if something dramatic – like a tropical storm or a massive water-conservation effort – doesn’t happen soon.
Public water supply systems across the state are being asked to cut back usage by 10 to 15 percent and to update their contingency plans if the state imposes mandatory measures, as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels warned Wednesday that he may have to do.
After months of sparse rainfall and intense heat, much of Indiana is now in a severe to extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which updates conditions weekly.
That’s a dangerous place to be. Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson said there is a “90-percent chance,” soon to turn into a 100-percent chance, that a smoldering cigarette flicked out of a car by a motorist would start a fire.
As a stark reminder of the danger, the Indiana Department of Transportation is putting up highway signs this week along the interstates, warning motorists to watch for wildfires.
“We could end up with the kind of wildfires they have out West,” Wainscott said. He said fires have already broken out in some state forests, but were brought under control.
Strangely, just as Wainscott was starting the press conference, held at the State Government Center, there was a cloudburst of rain outside. But it did little more than provide fodder for some dark humor. The ground is so dry, that it would take several weeks of sustained rainfall to catch up to the 6 to 10 inches of rainfall deficit across much of the state, weather officials said.
A week ago, only about one-third of Indiana’s 92 counties were under a water-shortage warning. As of Tuesday, every county was under the warning.
Mark Basch, head of DNR’s Division of Water, said the state overall will have “plenty of water” if conservation measures are taken and water resources are shared among communities. Some cities, including Indianapolis, have imposed some mandatory conservation measures but many are still relying on residents to voluntarily cut back their water usage.
But Al Shipe, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, doesn’t share Basch’s optimism. Shipe said Indiana is likely heading toward an “historic drought” with ominous consequences if the drought continues through the summer and if water usage isn’t dramatically cut back.
“We may not have water to drink. We may not have water to fight fires with,” Shipe said. If his tone sounded alarmist, it was intentional. “I still see people watering their sidewalks when I’m driving to work,” he said.
Indiana’s farmers are already feeling the pain in lost crops and/or rising costs associated with keeping their livestock watered and fed. Farmers in 80 of Indiana’s 92 counties now qualify for some kind of disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
State officials and weather experts had been likening this summer’s drought to a record drought of 1988. But no more, the drought and its accompanying relentless heat that has a grip on the Midwest is breaking 50-year-old records.
“In many ways, we’re in uncharted territory,” Wainscott said. “The only parallels I can make are to 1934 and 1936, the Dust Bowl years. It’s really that bad.”
Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Widening drought has officials concerned on many levels
Forget worrying about the drought killing your lawn and start worrying about wildfires.
- Local & Bistate
Rose-Hulman professor researching ways to make homes storm safe
Tornadoes produce greater uplift forces than hurricanes, which can flatten homes such as in Moore Okla., south of Oklahoma City.
Group wants to connect city with river
Fairbanks Park is underutilized.
The Wabash River is peaceful and inviting, but there is some concern about its cleanliness as well as pollution levels. Also, people can’t get on the river unless they have a boat.
New conservancy district appoints first directors
Members of the first board of directors of a new lake conservancy district were appointed Tuesday by the Vigo County Board of Commissioners.
Vigo law enforcement signs Triad charter to protect seniors
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller joined Vigo County law enforcement and community activists Tuesday to sign the county’s first Triad charter, becoming the 22nd Triad in Indiana.
Wabash Valley Red Cross wraps up Save the Day Campaign
The American Red Cross Wabash Valley Chapter’s 2013 annual meeting concluded the 17th annual Save the Day Campaign, and the results lifted the spirits of all who were involved.
Some Vigo roads washed out
Spring storms resulted in $250,000 in damages to roads in southern Vigo County, with costs including sand and labor to save homes near river bottoms, said county highway Assistant Superintendent Dan Bennett.
County Council votes $78K toward rail spur
County officials voted Tuesday night to make good on a 2011 promise to help improve a railroad spur just north of Terre Haute for Menard Inc.
Spring flooding damages future CSO holding lagoon
Flood waters from the Wabash River have done costly damage to one of the city-owned “lagoons” on former International Paper property.
Vigo tops state average for IREAD-3 scores
The Vigo County School Corp. exceeded the state average in the percentage of students passing the state’s mandatory Grade 3 reading test, IREAD-3.
Storms cause minor damage in Valley
Tuesday morning storms in the Wabash Valley caused thousands of Duke Energy customers to lose power.
Vigo County Jail Log: May 21, 2013
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Monday and Tuesday, based on jail records.
UPDATE: Damage surveys show 2 weak tornadoes hit near Indy
INDIANAPOLIS — The National Weather Service says storm surveys show two weak tornadoes struck central Indiana.
Storm causes scattered Indiana power outages
INDIANAPOLIS — A line of thunderstorms that moved across Indiana caused scattered building damage and power outages for several thousand homes and businesses.
Kindergartner diagnosed with MD treated to a day with the fire department
“He’ll just never forget this day,” Stacey Manley said, a little bit tearfully, as she watched her smiling 6-year-old son Carter sitting happily in the captain’s seat of Fire Engine 2.
Casey, Illinois aims for another world record
The town of Casey, Ill., may soon weave its way into the record books as the small town with the most world records. After setting records for the world’s largest wind chimes and the world’s largest golf tee, Casey is now looking to become home to the world’s largest knitting needles and crochet hook.
Rose-Hulman projects will promote growth, learning for people with physical challenges
Life changed dramatically for college engineering student Drew Christy on Feb. 22, 2008 when he was involved in an auto accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
‘500’ gas stations being sold to Speedway LLC
After several decades in business, the area’s familiar “500” gasoline stations and convenience stores will soon be missing from the roadsides of Vigo and Sullivan counties.
Terre Haute woman faces 14 charges
A Terre Haute woman faces 14 criminal counts after her arrest Friday on drug-related charges.
Two adults injured in ATV accident
Two adults were injured Sunday evening while riding an all-terrain vehicle near Lexington Farms Subdivision off Moyer Drive in southern Vigo County.
Vigo schools’ medical claims down 4 percent
The Vigo County School Corp.’s medical claims were about $13 million over the last 12 months, down 4 percent from the prior year, said Diane Titchenell, an Anthem account manager that works with the school district.
2013 Government Directory now available
The 2013 Government Directory is now available.
UPDATE: 5 killed, 6 injured in I-70 van crash in Illinois
ST. LOUIS — A van carrying church members returning from a California gathering careened off of a southern Illinois freeway and overturned several times today, killing five people and sending six others to hospitals, authorities said.
2 children reported dead from Indianapolis fire
INDIANAPOLIS — Authorities say some autistic children lived in the Indianapolis condominium unit where a fire has killed two children.
Tighter Indiana drunken driving law seems unlikely
INDIANAPOLIS — Some key Indiana legislators say it’s unlikely that the state will any time soon go along with a federal safety board’s recommendation that the threshold for drunken driving be cut nearly in half.
Vigo County Jail Log: May 20, 2013
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, based on jail records.
Life-Size Ping Pong: Valley pickleball tourney draws large crowd to Brittlebank Park
It’s been described as “ping pong on steroids.”
Some people call it “life-size ping pong where you stand on the table.”
Boat trip aims to raise awareness about Lewy Body Dementia
In 2013, the Year of the River, it makes sense to link a grand adventure on the Wabash River with a good cause.
Legislature had little taste for alcohol bills
When it comes to alcohol, the 2013 legislative session may be marked more by what it didn’t do to boost booze sales than what it did.
STATE OF THE STATEHOUSE: Is it regulation that doesn’t make sense or evening the playing field?
I’m not much of a drinker, so I haven’t spent much time thinking about how Indiana’s alcohol laws personally impact me, but that changed last fall when my daughter got married.
RESTAURANT INSPECTIONS: April 29-May 3
The Vigo County Health Department inspected the following food establishments April 29-May 3:
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Rose-Hulman professor researching ways to make homes storm safe