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Drought affects local businesses, landscapes

BY KRISTEN EAST and JORDYN REILAND | JULY 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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University of Iowa officials and local residents agree the lack of precipitation and prolonged heat wave are affecting everyone.

As one University of Iowa Facilities Management official says more water than ever before is being used to treat the drought-stricken campus landscape, local businesses say they are facing their own setbacks.

Employees at the Hamburg Inn No. 2, 214 N. Linn St., are taking preventative measures by voluntarily reducing their water usage. A sign is posted outside the establishment informing customers, “due to the severe drought, water will be served by request only.”

“It’s a good place to start,” said Brittney Swensen, a server at Hamburg Inn. “Even if there is not officially [a water ban], it’s nice for a restaurant to be responsible.”

Although he hasn’t reduced his water use, George Etre — owner of Takanami and Formosa — said he’s noticed an increase in food prices.

“We haven’t necessarily done anything that has affected customers but we have noticed [the drought] with a lot of our food costs … [they] have been going through the roof,” he said. “We have just kind of eaten it internally.”

Etre said he has also seen a decrease in the quality of produce and vegetables he receives and, as a result, has changed some of the menu options at his establishments.

Local businesses aren’t the only ones affected by the drought.

The last statewide rainfall occurred on May 31, and UI officials say campus greenery has taken a major hit.

Bob Brooks, the assistant director of UI building and landscape services, said facilities management officials aren’t reducing their water usage — they’re actually using more than they ever have.

“We’re trying to keep 500-plus trees alive that have been planted within the past couple years,” he said. “We have six to eight people during the day who are doing nothing but watering critical plant material and trying to keep that investment alive.”

No extra staff has been hired, but Brooks said the six-person mowing crew hasn’t had much to do so they’re helping others water the necessary greenery.

The Pentacrest has noticeably taken a huge hit from the lack of rain. Brooks said between $3,000 to $4,000 has been spent on irrigation for the Pentacrest this summer.

“That’s pretty small compared to our overall budget,” he said. “There may be an increase in our water bill this year, but it’s not anything monumental.”

While there’s no such water ban in place in Iowa City, Ellen Habel — an administrative assistant for the city of Coralville — said Coralville officials asked residents a few weeks ago to voluntarily cut back on water.

And one local expert said planning for a drought in times of abundance is becoming the norm for many landscapers and businesses.

“We can choose [to plant] a variety of plants that are native, that can survive on very little water,” said Sheila Samuelson, a sustainable business consultant for Bright Green Strategy.

Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability, said people need to be thinking about water at all times and not just when there’s a drought.

“Water is precious,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s only during drought periods that we seem to realize this. Be aware of every drop of water you use.”


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