Low Mississippi levels affecting Jefferson County

HILLSBORO (AP) — Residents in some Jefferson County towns along the Mississippi River have been dealing with water shortages and bad-tasting water because of the low levels along the river.

The Jefferson County Water Authority is supposed to provide water for Festus and Herculaneum. But since Jan. 8, it has only supplied Herculaneum because there’s not enough water for both towns.

Festus officials have had to pull water from wells because the Mississippi River cannot provide enough. The well water runs through old cast-iron pipes, which can leave it with a metallic taste.

Thomas Palos said the foul water has also stained his toilets and wrecked a hot water heater in a rental property he owns there.

“We don’t drink it all,” Palos said. He also said his family buys bottled water and had been showering at the YMCA until buying a $480 water filter.

The St. Louis gauge on the river reached minus 4.57 feet on Jan. 1, the ninth-lowest reading on record and about 11⁄2 feet shy of the record low. The gauge read 2.37 feet early Friday, showing a rise of more than 2 feet in a week after recent snow and rain, according to the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

Steve Settlemoir, who manages the Festus water plant, said the authority is pulling an average of about 700,000 gallons a day from the Mississippi. Last year’s average was 1.6 million gallons, he said.

“If the river would come up and stay up, we could probably serve both towns,” Settlemoir said. But he said it’s unclear what will happen if there’s another dry summer.

Crystal City doesn’t pull water directly from the Mississippi but relies on the river bottoms to fill two wells that feed the water to its treatment plant. The wells normally supply about 500 gallons of water a minute. Because of the low water, they can only pull about half that amount, said Tim Whaley, water superintendent of Crystal City.

“When I go down to the Mississippi, I can’t believe what I’m looking at,” Whaley said.

Other areas have fared better. Almost all of the water intakes used by Missouri American Water, which draws from the Missouri and the Meramec rivers, were built after 1963, a year the Missouri hit historic lows. They were designed to survive low water levels, said Ann Dettmer, a Missouri American spokeswoman.

St. Louis residents, whose drinking water comes from the Mississippi via a plant near the Chain of Rocks Bridge and the Missouri River near Chesterfield, also avoided shortages, said Curt Skouby, the city’s water commissioner and director of public utilities. One reason is the Chain of Rocks plant is behind a dam that keeps the water at a good level, he said.

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