Simplified: It's been the driest June on record for much of the state, according to the National Weather Service, and federal data shows the Big Sioux River is flowing at a far lower-than-average rate.
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The Big Sioux was flowing at a rate of about 27 cubic feet per second in Sioux Falls as of noon Tuesday.
That's significantly below the average for this time of year, which is 673 cubic feet per second, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.
Why it matters
- Conserving water is always a good idea, said Darin Freese, water program coordinator with the City of Sioux Falls.
- But it's especially important now to preserve water so the city doesn't have to further tighten water restrictions.
- Sioux Falls hasn't had to tighten restrictions to once-per-week watering since 2012, but it could happen again, as conditions this year are similar, Freese said.
- Lower water discharge rates (i.e. less water in the river) also mean there's a greater chance for pollutants in the water to become concentrated.
"There is potential for higher E. Coli concentrations and potential toxins from algal blooms and things like that," said John McMaine, a water management engineer and assistant professor at South Dakota State University.
Weren't we flooding, like, not that long ago?
Yep. 2019 brought flooding to many parts of the state, including Sioux Falls.
For some comparison, at the start of June 2019 the Big Sioux River was flowing at more than 1,800 cubic feet per second in Sioux Falls.
Now, two years later, it's drought conditions. Cycling between dry and wet spells is normal, McMaine said, though not necessarily to the extent we've seen.
"I would say we are seeing some of the extremes be more extreme," he said.
Do you have any good news?
Friends of the Big Sioux Director Travis Entenman sees two silver linings to this dry spell:
- It's easier to pick up trash in and around the river that otherwise would not have been accessible.
- Because of the lack of rain, there will be less run-off going into the water system.
That said, Entenman echoed McMaine's concerns about higher concentrations of pollutants.
He didn't know exactly what the contaminant levels were, thought, because the state is weeks behind in reporting water quality data.
How else can I help?
The biggest thing, Freese said, is respecting that the city is in "stage one" of its lawn watering rules, meaning:
- Lawns cannot be watered between noon and 5 p.m.
- People with an even-numbered address can water on even calendar days, and odds on odd. (e.x. 101 S. Main Street could water on Wednesday, June 23 because 101 and 23 are both odd numbers).
Here are some other things water experts say you can do to conserve water (even when we're not in a drought):
- Check your home inside and out for leaking water (including toilets, faucets, sprinklers, etc.)
- Align sprinklers so they hit grass and not the sidewalk or street.
- Avoid watering during hot periods of the day.