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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Heat wave: officials plead for water savings, weigh burn ban

Monday, July 23, 2012

AHHH - An overheated youngster at Thursday's Farmers market uses a clump of ice from a water cooler to try to cool off. / Dana Larsen
With a heat wave and drought conditions dragging on, city officials this week began to consider taking actions to offset the growing concerns.

Storm Lake Fire Chief Mike Jones said he is considering calling for a countywide open burning ban, along with other fire chiefs around the area. Such a ban was put in place Thursday in Clay County after a request by Webb Fire Chief Jim Sylvester, who determined that conditions represent a threat to life and property.

Jones said he is watching the forecast for the likelihood of a saving rain. As of Friday, forecasts called for more days mostly in the mid-90s through next week and only a 10 percent chance of rain each day at best, rising to 20 percent at the end of next week.

"Right now, I'm not ready to do it," he said of a burning mandate. It is easier to make the declaration if all of the county's fire departments agree, he added.

So far, people seem to be playing it smart and avoiding unnecessary use of fire without such a mandate, he feels. "Just because we have not mandated it, I want people to understand that it doesn't mean it is a good idea to burn. I would strongly advise anyone to avoid it." Despite the extremely dry conditions in which a blaze could spread rapidly, there have been no unusual problems. In the past, at times in hot dry conditions, overheated brakes on railroad trains have also sparked series of fires through the rural area, but this summer that has not been the case.

On Friday, the City of Storm Lake issued a plea for voluntary water conservation.

"We're pushing about five million gallons a day at this point," said City Manager Jim Patrick, a figure that has increased steadily in recent days. While the water system can handle the current flow, use is getting close to maxing out the capacity.

One thing people can do to help is to water their lawns in the early morning or evening hours to help spread out the demand burden. "This is for their sake as well as ours - if you water in the heat of day it is just going to evaporate off and may actually stress grass and plants more," Patrick said.

Residents are asked not to water between 9 a.m.-9 p.m. When residents or businesses do water their lawn they should direct sprinklers so that they are watering the lawn area and not the sidewalk or driveways where water just runs off into the storm water collection system.

The city has already cut back on watering its golf course. "It's starting to take a toll," Patrick worried.

At this point, City officials are hoping to avoid a conservation order.

"We don't want to hit our people with mandates. We're hoping they take measures voluntarily," Patrick said. "When it comes to mandates, we just don't want to go there."

The extreme conditions continue to alarm area farmers, who may be losing an estimated 1 percent of their harvest potential with each passing day without rainfall, according to experts with the local Iowa State University Extension.

The hot and dry conditions are also ideal for the Japanese beetle, which is beginning to take a serious bite out of Iowa gardens and farm fields.

"If we had plentiful rain, those insects would be knocked down from the plants and washed away - plus it would encourage new plant growth to replace the damage caused by beetles," farmer Steve Swenka said.

The beetles emerge from mid-June through July and live 30-45 days. Extension experts say gardeners can try shaking the beetles off their plants in the early morning when they are sluggish, catching them in a bucket of soapy water to discard. Some farmers are resorting to spot insecticide applications.

The hot weather is rushing maturation of crops as well. Nearly 90 percent of corn was beyond tassling stage by this week - far ahead of the five year average of 43 percent for this date. While the crop matures fast in the heat, kernels and pods tend to be smaller.

Like many Iowa parents and homeowners, Ben Albright of Lytton set up the sprinkler on the Fourth of July. But it wasn't for the enjoyment of his young son or for the sake of his scorched grass, it was for the comfort of his cattle. Albright says this season he spends most of his time making sure his herd had access to shade and water. "Even on hot holidays, farmers are taking care of their livestock," said Albright. "It's a 365-day, 24/7 type of job."

Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake continued its "Operation Heat Relief," for residents of the area who need to escape the summer's heat and humidity, even as emergency medical personnel were called out to at least one possible heat stroke case on Thursday afternoon.

Individuals may seek relief between noon and 7 p.m. at BVRMC on days when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees. Interested individuals should come to the Bistro (cafeteria) located inside the North/Green entrance. Ice water will be available at no charge.

In the midst of the heat wave, hospital staff have issued some suggestions for the public.

"Anyone suffering symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke should seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms include nausea, dizziness, profuse sweating, the inability to sweat, or cramps," they said.

Tips for staying cool include:

* Plan outdoor activities in the cooler early morning or evening hours

* Stay indoors as much as possible where it is air-conditioned

* Avoid drinks with caffeine and alcohol, which can be dehydrating

* Wear light clothing

* Drink plenty of water

* Eat small meals more often

* Avoid strenuous activity if possible

* Crack car windows. Never leave children or pets unattended in a vehicle.

* Check the heat on outdoor play equipment, like slides, which can burn children.

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