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Hot, Dry, Tapped Out: Drought Drains Wallets, Too

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
July 28, 2012

The drought that’s hit huge swathes of the country is also draining the audiences for outdoor activities.

Just look at the Fox River, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago. Water swirls and plunges over a dam in Yorkville, Ill. Normally there’d be lots of folks canoeing or kayaking here, but not today.

“As you can see most of my canoes are just sitting,” says Greg Freeman, the owner of Freeman Sports Shop.

He’s lined up a colorful array of canoes and kayaks on the grassy riverbank behind his store. The water is a few feet lower than usual, and in some spots, the riverbed is poking through.

“You know, I get reservations all the time. People have been coming out here for years,” he says. “But now instead of the … 20 and 30 canoe groups, it’s 10 and 15.”

‘What’s Happening To The Fish?’

Freeman says the drought has just about killed his bait business. Sitting at the riverfront park, Jason Szuimoszek says he loves to fish but with the water levels so low, fewer people are doing it.

“The avid fisherman, I think, is going to find the right spots regardless of the drought,” Szuimoszek says. “But there’s parts of the river that you can actually walk from one side of the river to the other. You know, I ask sometimes, what’s happening to the fish?”

What’s happening to the fish is that more are dying in some areas. Low oxygen levels along with the overall reduced water levels are to blame.

Chris McCloud with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says these are natural fish kills. In addition to that problem, he says, a few boaters have called in, seeking help after getting stuck in low waters.

“We’re asking people to use common sense, understand that you may not be able to travel to all the places via the water that you have in the past,” McCloud says.

Playing On The Brown

The drought also becomes a big issue for golf courses.

At the Glencoe Golf Club driving range, about a half-hour north of Chicago, golfers whack away, littering the greens with yellow balls while squirrels lethargically half-leap across the grounds in the heat.

General club manager Stella Nanos says brown is the new green for the golf industry.

That’s because golf courses are trying to conserve water. For instance, the staff here uses water from reservoirs on the course to make sure the greens are in good shape, but lets the rain take care of other areas. Nanos says many golfers don’t seem to mind the drought conditions.

“Compared to the wet, well nobody wants to play when it’s wet,” she says.

Barry Harlem, practicing for an early morning tee time, plays throughout the heat at a number of courses. He’s says he’s not worried about the lack of rain.

“If you’re good-enough pros, it’s a big difference between if it’s green and it’s dry. [For] 99.9 percent of the golfing public, it doesn’t make a difference,” Harlem says.

Where it does make a difference, though, is for folks who like to garden. Kathy Hayden manages the plant information service at the Chicago Botanic Garden. She says the hot, dry weather has kept many gardeners inside.

“Nobody wants to be out gardening when its 105 degrees out with a heat index of even worse,” she says.

People still call to get answers from the volunteer master gardeners at the Botanic Garden’s hotline. There have been fewer calls lately because of the drought, but a majority of the calls coming in are related to weather.

“In this heat, people think they need to go out and hold the hose over their tree or their plant every day. That’s the worse thing you can do,” she says.

Hayden says instead you should water less frequently and more deeply. Most plants need an inch of water per week. While there has been some rain in recent days, it’s just not enough.

Like many others around the country, Hayden’s hoping for rain — and lots of it — for several days. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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