Did Ithaca just turn conserving water into a game?

It’s no Pokémon Go, but thinking of water conservation as a game might just help get Ithaca residents on board. Despite some much-needed rain this weekend, we’re in the midst of the worst drought in years.

Last week's water flow chart, courtesy of the City of Ithaca. Can you help keep the orange line below the blue line?

Recent weeks’ water flow chart, courtesy of the City of Ithaca. Can you help keep the orange line below the blue line?

“The challenge for our community is to keep the orange line below the blue line until the flow in the creek returns to normal,” say City of Ithaca officials, who have released a chart showing how much water was flowing along Six Mile Creek, and how much was removed from the reservoir for the water treatment plant, over the last two weeks.

The jump in the blue line early last week reflects the heavy rain that arrived on Monday. It’s the daily flow, in millions of gallons per day, streaming past the monitoring station in the Bethel Grove area, east of the city’s reservoir and dams along Six Mile Creek.

The dip in the orange line, water pulled into the Ithaca water treatment plant, could reflect lower usage after Ithaca officials urged water conservation in the middle of last week. Good work, Ithaca! Keep that orange line down!

Restaurants have been urged not to set out glasses of water unless people ask for them. “Every glass of water brought to your table in a restaurant requires another two glasses of water to wash and rinse the glass,” according to Taverna Banfi, the restaurant at Cornell’s Statler Hotel. “Since nearly 70 million meals are served each day in US restaurants, we’d save more than 26 million gallons of water if only one person in four declined the complimentary glassful.” Taverna Banfi says they will gladly provide a glass of water upon request.

"Time for your bath!" Brown tap water in the City of Ithaca. Photo courtesy of Carrie Cuinn.

“Time for your bath!” Brown tap water in the City of Ithaca. Photo courtesy of Carrie Cuinn.

Meantime, residents are still facing a problem with brown water coming out of their taps. According to City officials, the low water levels at the reservoir mean more minerals get into the municipal water supply than usual, so the City’s new water filtration system needs to be adjusted. “Water plant staff are continuing to adjust levels of sodium permanganate and corrosion inhibitor in the water supply to reduce the amount of discoloration,” and staff are “flushing water from hydrants to clear the discoloration in response to complaints, and will continue to do so as needed.”

Residents who want clear water to cook or bathe with, or to drink, have been told by City staff to let the water run for 15 minutes, which goes counter to the water conservation message. Some have been going out and buying bottled water, but it’s at their own expense. “The city will not be reimbursing people for drinking water,” chief of staff Dan Cogan tells us.

Mayor Svante Myrick and Acting Mayor Deb Mohlenhoff did not respond to inquiries about whether the City — which is charging residents for tap water — could bring in bottled water or reimburse residents who have to go buy their own. They also would not comment on whether residents could expect to be reimbursed for clothes damaged by the brown water when doing laundry.

The City of Ithaca has its own water system, separate from surrounding towns, which use Bolton Point Water System, and Cornell University, which gets its own water supply from Fall Creek. Cornell has also called for water conservation, asking its staff and residents to use 30% less water.

The water systems are interconnected, and to a point, Bolton Point can provide some of their supply to City of Ithaca customers. “I know Bolton Point has been supplying water to both Cornell and the City of Ithaca, but I believe they are reaching the limit of what they can supply,” says Ithaca Common Council member Seph Murtagh.

“At our current rate, unless we get significant rainfall or cut consumption, the reservoir will run dry in 30 days,” says Murtagh. He says the City is exploring contingency plans, such as “bringing in mobile filtration to filter water from the lake,” in case the situation doesn’t get better.

“We just don’t have enough water,” says Murtagh. “We need rain, bad.”

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