MINNEAPOLIS -- Drought conditions are straining water supplies in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, leading Minnesota officials on Thursday to urge residents to cut back on their water use. Some companies have even been ordered to switch from streams to alternative supplies.
State officials are asking residents to forgo such things as watering their lawns and trees or washing their cars. Farmers and businesses also are being asked to curtail their water use.
"We're encouraging all nonessential uses to really be curtailed and stopped," Department of Natural Resources official Dave Leuthe said during a conference call with reporters. "It really is a statewide guidance."
It took longer for the drought to be felt in Minnesota than other states. But updated data from the U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday showed that nearly half the state is now in a severe or extreme drought, while the rest of the state is in at least a moderate drought.
"Our soil moisture profile is dust in many places. Steam flows are low. Lake and wetland levels are down. Shallow aquifers are low," State Climatologist Greg Spoden said.
Lawns and trees will go dormant and survive without water, so people should help local water utilities until they recover from the drought, said Leuthe, deputy director of the department's Ecological and Water Resources Division.
Streams in some parts of the state are so low that 50 commercial users have been told to stop drawing water from them, Leuthe said. They're mostly in northeastern, north-central and southern Minnesota, he said, and they include businesses along the St. Louis River system such as the Sappi Fine Paper mill and the USG ceiling panel plant in Cloquet.
Almost all of them have alternatives, such as ground water sources, so none have had to shut down or curtail operations, Leuthe said.
"At this point we haven't put anybody out of jobs or had to close anything," Leuthe said. Almost all these companies have temporarily switched to alternatives such as ground water, he said.
Some golf courses and sand-and-gravel companies around the state that draw water from surface supplies have also been told to stop, he said. In some areas, wells owned by private individuals have been going dry.
Spoden said it's beginning to rival the extreme drought of 1988. Large areas of Minnesota have missed the equivalent of two summer months' worth of rain over the past four months, with shortfalls reaching as much as seven to 10 inches. The second-warmest July in modern state history exacerbated the problem, he said.
"The situation will certainly be even more dire unless we receive some adequate late-fall over winter and early spring precipitation," Spoden said.
Matthew Wohlman, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said the state's farmers fared better than producers in most other states affected by the drought, though yields varied from spotty to good depending on local conditions.
"But we are very concerned going to this fall and winter and into next spring about what the impact could be if we don't get adequate moisture this winter and into next spring," Wohlman said.
He also said that the drought makes it urgent for Congress to pass the stalled Farm Bill to ensure that farmers have the certainty and the risk management tools they need such as crop insurance to plan for next year.