Decatur drought mitigation

Outcomes and Conclusions

By dredging Lake Decatur, the City increased its water supply 30 percent. The increase adds 52 days of water supply. Now, Lake Decatur can provide water for just under eight months without rainfall.

The new wells installed by Archer Daniels Midland Co. reduced their lake water use by about half, which provides the community with more water during a drought. The wells expanded groundwater availability by nine million gallons per day, with seven million reserved for a drought.

The leak detection, repairs, and replacements to the City’s water mains have increased the efficiency of the water supply system. Without leaks in the pipes, less water is wasted allowing more water to get to residents and businesses.

The City is continuing to implement recommended strategies from the INTERA report and is planning to implement some of the longer terms strategies to increase their drought resilience. To help educate residents, the City has mailed water conservation flyers in their water bills. They have also posted the flyers on their water conservation webpage along with links to other water conservation organizations.


The City encountered relatively few challenges throughout the process. Lake Decatur is a source of community pride and the economic ties of the lake to the businesses and agriculture in the region are well understood. This understanding, coupled with the fact that residents could visually see the drop in the lake, which is centrally located in the city, made it so residents accepted the need to implement the various restrictions, rates, and strategies.

Since the City had already gone through planning processes and studies on droughts and Lake Decatur, there was plenty of information to be used in the report, which is not always the case. Without access to the wealth of information the City had, creating the report, and determining future needs, would have been more difficult.

The City also alleviated conflict with businesses by working with the top 25 water customers in the region. By working with these customers, the City was able to ensure their voices were heard to significantly reduce conflict.

Lessons Learned

Going through the droughts and subsequent planning activities, Decatur learned a few lessons. The City learned the best time to plan is as soon as possible with as many stakeholders as possible. The earlier a community can plan, the more information they will have to prepare and implement strategies. By proactively reaching out to the regulatory agencies, the top water users, and the public throughout the process, the City was able to have a comprehensive approach that alleviated potential issues down the line. Acting early and including external groups ensured the City had the information they needed to act and implement the necessary strategies without much push back.

As governments often operate on a short-term basis, Decatur recognized the need to capitalize on a major event like the 2012 drought. Immediately following the drought, everyone was focused on what had just happened, which created a window of opportunity to enact water-conservation strategies.

As water use is inherently tied to economic development, especially in the case of Decatur whose major industries heavily rely on water, the City learned the value of making the economic argument for drought preparedness. To grow as a community and attract and retain businesses, communities need to have plentiful water supplies, which can be a useful argument when advocating for drought mitigation and adaptation strategy funding.

Decatur also learned that they should not hesitate to ask for voluntary conservation early on, to compare mandatory conservation strategies with other water utilities, and to diversify water supplies.

Takeaway Message

Keith Alexander, the Water Production Manager for the City, said “You never know when a drought will start or how long it will last. Planning ahead of time will help you be prepared for when it does happen and provide critical information for determining what you need to do in the future.”

Questions for discussion

These questions are designed to inspire readers—especially those wanting to learn broadly about climate change solutions—to think critically about the case study on this page and encourage deeper, more meaningful conversations. A list of ERIT case studies that include discussion questions can be found on the Resilient Communities Case Studies page. 

  1. How could this case study in Illinois be applicable to other communities? 
  2. This city’s actions were prompted by a drought that was visible to the public. Why is it important for communities to be proactive in developing mitigation strategies? 
  3. Use the US Drought Monitor to investigate drought in your area. Select down to the state level and look at drought statistics for the past year below the map. 
    1. Is your state experiencing drought now? How about in the past year? 
    2. Could your state benefit from a drought mitigation plan?

Project resources

For more information on Decatur's drought mitigation activities, contact: