There is no doubt we need rain.
Today, the St. Joseph River is at near record low levels.
South Bend's annual rainfall deficit is about 6 inches right now. That is causing really low levels along the river.
According to the National Weather Service, the Elkhart gauge is measuring the current stage of the river nearly two feet below normal.
Current Stage: 17.50 feet
Record Low Stage: 17.05 feet (Set in 1964)
Average Stage according to the USGS: 18.89 feet
This has put a strain on the river and on those who depend on it.
Part of Robin Hibschman's daily routine includes relaxing on a lawn chair on her back porch. It overlooks the St. Joseph river. She has lived in Mishawaka, right next to the river for more than 30 years and she loves watching mother nature flow by her home.
"We have been praying for rain," says Hibschman.
And in that time, it has never looked this bad.
"It has been low before and we have joked that we have beach but this year we have serious beach," says Hibschman as she looks out at her dock.
There is about 4 feet of sandy beach protruding from the water line. Usually the water comes right up to the top of her 3 foot tall cement sea wall. Hibschman's observations are correct. In some spots along the Saint Joe River, the water level is measuring nearly 2 feet below normal.
WATER FOR POWER:
"A lot of people ask why we don't just open the gates and let more water through," said Indiana Michigan Power spokesman David Mayne.
Mayne says I & M controls 6 of the dams along the river which starts in Michigan and meanders into Northern Indiana before heading back into Michigan and eventually dumping in Lake Michigan. To comply with federal law, the energy company has to maintain the water upstream of the dam at a certain level. So, they can't just open up the gates.
"Our hydro units are what is known as "Run of River" dams. That means they use the natural flow of the river to turn the turbine generators (which make electricity), instead of building up a huge reservoir like the Hoover Dam which people might be more familiar with," explained Mayne.
And the lack of flow from the weaker river has caused the company problems, too. The river naturally turns 41 turbines, which create electricity. Only 9 are operating because of the lack of water and the slow flow.
"What that means is our overall generating capacity for our hydro units is about 22 1/2 megawatts. Right now we are only able to generate 3 1/2 megawatts," said Mayne.
According to numbers from the US Geological Survey, the normal flow of the river is about 800 cubic feet per second (cfps). Right now, the river is flowing about 215 cfps.
"The water is usually up. You can see the marks on the tires," said Austin Langdon as he points to tires that are strapped to the sea wall next to the boat launch at Monkey Island in Mishawaka.
Those tires are used as buoys by boaters so their boats don't scratch the sea wall. But the water line is about 4 feet from hitting the sea wall where Langdon is standing.
Langdon and his partner, Steve Ruszkowski, service and fix boat engines for Starboard Choice Marine. That means they are out on the river everyday, several times a day.
"We come to give it (a boat) a test ride and a clean bill of health and then give it back to them (the owner) and have another happy customer," said Ruszkowski.
Launching the boats has become treacherous. And because of low water levels, there is more debris to maneuver around when they finally get the boat in the water.
"It is horrible," says Ruszkowski, "This is probably the lowest I have seen it."