Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 18, 2012

Indiana river reaches historic low

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The Wabash River is going, going and just about gone.

The U.S. Geological Survey listed the Wabash River at Terre Haute on Tuesday at just below the zero mark.

That’s as low as pretty much anyone can remember. Maybe a little lower.

A normal depth for the river at Terre Haute is about seven feet. That means the current level is seven feet less than normal.

That is causing problems for boaters who now must fear hitting the bottom of the river.

“This boat was designed for shallow water,” said Brendan Kearns, whose 60-horsepower motor churned up a swill of water and sand. “And we’re getting stuck.”

Worsening drought conditions have placed the entire state under a water shortage warning. Calling the dry conditions “uncharted territory,” state officials are asking citizens to reduce their water usage.

The extremely low water level can also lead boaters to assume the river is shallow when, in fact, it can become suddenly very deep. Around some bridges, the river reaches depths of close to 40 feet, Kearns said.

“You never know what the river is going to do,” Winchell said.

In addition to being low, the river is also moving very slowly in most areas.

The U.S. Geological Survey measures a river’s current in “cubic feet per second.” In recent days, the USGS has recorded the speed of the Wabash at Terre Haute at levels around 800 CFS, easily breaking a record of 1,180 CFS set back in 1936.

Lower water levels have been good for some animals, such as eagles, who are enjoying better hunting conditions. Others, such as turtles, frogs, minks and muskrats, are having a tougher time due to the lack of rain, state conservation officer Max Winchell said.

Droughts are one of the “limiting factors” for wildlife population, Winchell said. “It’s not the end of everything," he said. "Hopefully we’ll get some rain. But [the drought] will take a toll.”

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Details for this story were provided by The Tribune Star in Terre Haute, Ind.

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