Chicago Lawns are turning brown. Flowers are wilting. Water levels are so low that ducks can stand in some rivers and streams.
A drought that is stunting corn, rice and soybean crops across the nation's Farm Belt is also leading many communities in more urban parts of the Midwest to ban lawn-watering and urge homeowners to conserve.
"I'm not watering out of respect for what is happening ecologically," said Tod Lending, gesturing toward his parched front lawn on Chicago's North Side. "I have a 10-year-old daughter and I'm trying to teach her what the right thing is to do ecologically."
In Indianapolis, officials have pleaded with customers to cut back on their use of water. St. Peters, Mo., made a similar request. So did Chicago, where WGN-TV meteorologist Dennis Haller said this is the driest summer so far in 135 years.
In North Aurora, homeowners can hand-water flowers and gardens, but using a sprinkler can bring a fine of as much as $750. Algonquin, in suburban Chicago, and Waterford, Wis., are limiting residents to watering every other day. Brownsburg, Ind., banned it.
"If there would be a fire, would you rather have us put the water on the house or water the damn lawn?" said town manager Mark White.
In the Chicago suburb of Forest Park, Bridie Hickman has been collecting water left in her sink after she washes lettuce and pours it on her vegetable garden. "All that water used to go down the drain. Now it goes out in the garden," she said.
The city of Chicago has stopped watering the grass at parks. And the Fire Department decided to teach fire hose techniques to its firefighters at a park so the ground would benefit from the water sprayed.
The drought-stricken area cuts a swath from eastern Texas up into the Great Lakes region, taking in parts of Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and virtually all of Illinois.
Chicago has seen only about 12 inches of rain since Jan. 1, a little more than half of the 20 inches or so that normally falls by now, according to the National Weather Service.
In June, Chicago got only about three-quarters of an inch, compared with the usual 3.63 inches. And July is shaping up to be even worse, with about 0.70 inches so far in a month that typically gets 3.51 inches.