The drought is worsening despite the rain, but Cornell and Ithaca College have conservation plans

Even the dramatic rains of the last couple of weeks haven’t been enough to resolve the drought gripping the Ithaca area. As the population swells this weekend with the influx of students, both Cornell and Ithaca College say they have plans to save water.

Part of the problem, says Finger Lakes Weather meteorologist Drew Montreuil, is that most of the recent rain came in downpours. “Instead of soaking into the ground, as in a slow, steady rain, much of what fell quickly turned into runoff and had little beneficial impact,” he says.

Drought level changes this week according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Drought level changes this week according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The Ithaca area is now in a Level 3 Drought, or Extreme Drought, “for the first time since the Drought Monitor began in 2000,” Montreuil says. It’s the second-worst drought classification.

As the City of Ithaca continues to deal with discolored water in their system (complicated by yesterday’s water main break near Wegmans), conservation efforts are still important.

Officials at both Ithaca College and Cornell University have implemented a variety of ways of reducing water use on their campuses. Both have stopped routinely washing vehicles, building surfaces, and sidewalks, and are using reclaimed water to irrigate plants, athletic fields, and lawns as much as possible.

At Ithaca College, the water height of their iconic Dillingham Fountain has been “lowered by half,” according to a bulletin from IC. The fountain operates with recirculated water, but lowering the height will “reduce water lost through overspray,” they say. They’re also turning the fountain off at night.

Low water flow at Cornell's Beebe Lake.

Low water flow at Cornell’s Beebe Lake dam.

For Cornell, which gets its own water supply from Fall Creek, students are being urged to take shorter showers and use new water-saving toilets. Cornell Dining says they’re going to save water from washing dishes in their dining halls by switching temporarily to disposable plates and plasticware.

The good news, says Montreuil, is that “widespread showers and thunderstorms are expected” with a strong cold front moving into the area on Sunday. “Again though, much of this will turn into runoff and not soak into the hard, dry ground.”

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